Alcohol and other Drug Classifications and Effects

By: Pine Rest Staff Authors

We’ve compiled a comprehensive list of the most commonly abused substances and their general classifications. Typical effects are listed; however experiences may vary depending upon the individual’s biological makeup, potency of the drug, dose of the drug, and frequency of use.


Alcohol is a nervous system depressant and is the most commonly used and abused drug in the United States.

  • Effects: Loss of inhibitions, relaxation, loss of judgment, loss of coordination, increased aggression, decreased heart rate, slower respiration, sleep interference, damage to the brain, liver, and other internal organs, depression, tolerance, withdrawal, and addiction.


Amphetamines are addictive central nervous system stimulants, similar to the body’s natural stimulant adrenaline. They are only legal when prescribed by a doctor.

  • Effects: Increased heart rate/blood pressure, breathing and energy. Loss of appetite, aggression, blockage of blood vessels, irregular heartbeat, stroke/heart failure, tolerance, and addiction.


Cocaine comes from the leaves of the South American coca plant. The leaves are ground into a white powder or paste. Cocaine is inhaled (powder breathed in through the nasal passages), injected (mixed with water and injected into the bloodstream), or smoked (rolled with tobacco or marijuana, or in a pipe in “crack” form).

  • Effects: Brief feeling of euphoria, relief of depression and anxiety, constricted blood vessels, increased heart rate, respiratory problems, high body temperature, stroke or heart attack, immediate depression at the end of the high, nasal irritation and degeneration (holes in your nose), mental changes, violent behavior, tolerance, and psychological addiction.


 Hallucinogens are substances that cause people to experience hallucinations. Some hallucinogens are found naturally in plants (mostly mushroom or cactus plants), but most are man-made substances created in drug labs such as LSD, Ecstasy and PCP.

  • Effects: Mild euphoria, dangerous increase in blood pressure, hallucinations, dilated pupils, higher body temperature, depression, violent behavior, flashbacks that involve panic, confusion, loss of control, and tolerance.


Heroin is an opiate and a highly addictive drug. It’s produced from morphine, a naturally occurring substance that comes from the seedpod of the Asian poppy plant. People use heroin by injecting, snorting or smoking it. With each use, more is needed to get high. One of the greatest risks with this drug is how extremely easy it is to become dependent. It’s estimated that almost one-fourth of the people who try heroin become addicted.

  • Effects: In the short term, heroin can cause euphoria, dry mouth, severe itching, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, slowed mental function and reduced physical pain. Long-term effects include infectious diseases, collapsed veins, infection of the heart lining and valves, pulmonary complications, abscesses, liver disease, kidney disease and spontaneous abortion.


Inhalants are ordinary household products like glue, whiteout, nail polish remover, paint, aerosol spray cans, and the Freon found in air conditioners. Most of these substances can be legally purchased, but it is ILLEGAL to use them in an inappropriate way. Inhalants rank fourth in popularity for use and are the most widely used drug by kids age seven to 17. Inhalants cause the most body damage when compared to all other drugs.

  • Effects: Irregular heartbeat, suffocation, brain damage, organ damage, hallucination, mental impairment, and tolerance.


Marijuana comes from the Hemp plant known as Cannabis Sativa. The main active, mind-altering chemical in marijuana is THC, which targets the central nervous system. Today’s marijuana is said to be seven to 10 times more potent than marijuana used in the 1960s. Marijuana tends to be the first illegal and illicit drug used by teenagers (after tobacco and alcohol) and is considered a “gateway drug” as well as a primary addictive substance. Marijuana differs from all other common drugs of abuse in that it stays in the body far longer (up to 150 times as long as alcohol!) due to being fat-based instead of water-based. This long “half-life” causes many of the negative effects listed below.

  • Effects: Feelings of calm and relaxation, elevation of heart and pulse rate, drowsiness/sleepiness, bloodshot eyes, paranoia, decrease in memory and coordination, Amotivational Syndrome (loss of motivation and interest in life), risk of lung cancer, bronchitis, emphysema, infertility (for both men and women), decrease in school and work performance, tolerance, withdrawal, and addiction.


Methamphetamines are powerful man-made amphetamines (central nervous system stimulants) that are illegal in all forms. They are usually made in home laboratories. The main ingredient is ephedrine, but they also include toxic ingredients such as hydrochloric acid, drain cleaner, battery acid, fuel, and anti-freeze. They have no medicinal value.

  • Effects: Intense high, hallucinations, twitching/jerking, confusion, dangerous rise in body temperature, rise in blood pressure and heart-rate, malnutrition, heart and respiratory troubles, tolerance, and addiction.


Narcotics are drugs that act as pain relievers and sleep inducers (downers). Opiates are narcotics extracted from the poppy flower, while other narcotics are man-made. Narcotics generally cause relaxation with an immediate “rush.” Narcotics are most often injected with intravenous needles or taken orally through misuse of cold medicines and prescribed pills.

  • Effects: Euphoria, drowsiness, loss of pain sensations, constipation, inflammation of the veins, hepatitis, skin abscesses or other growths, rapid tolerance, withdrawal and addiction.

Tobacco and Nicotine

Tobacco is a leafy plant containing nicotine, a powerful central nervous system stimulant. Nicotine is delivered into the body through smoking a tobacco product (cigars, cigarettes, hookah tobacco), using smokeless tobacco products (snuff, dip, twist, dry tobacco and sachets) or “vaping” (electronic cigarettes).

  • Effects: Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable illness and death in the United States. Short term, nicotine provides a feeling of calm followed by sudden depression, fatigue and craving. Long term effects of tobacco/nicotine include loss of taste and smell, chronic respiratory problems (colds, bronchitis), heart disease, lung disease, emphysema, stroke, cancer (lung, mouth, throat, esophagus, and other internal organs), wrinkling (numerous and premature), tolerance and physical and psychological dependence.

Because electronic cigarettes have been introduced only recently, the long-term health effects of long-term use of e-cigarettes is unknown. Nicotine use in any form can lead to increased blood pressure and heart rate as well as nausea, sweating, vomiting, diarrhea and eye irritation, according to the National Institutes of Health. E-cigarettes may contain ingredients that are known to be toxic to humans.

Poisoning from e-cigarettes is on the rise according to the Center for Disease Control because the liquid used for “vaping” can be ingested, inhaled or absorbed through the skin and eyes. These products are not required to be childproof and come in candy and fruit flavors that are appealing to children.

Tranquilizers and Sedatives

Tranquilizers are depressant drugs that can be used to treat anxiety or insomnia. Sedatives are used as a sleep aid or relaxant. Tranquilizers are used to gain a sense of well-being or to reduce feelings of panic or tension. Like alcohol, tranquilizers work to depress brain functions. Some common tranquilizers are Xanax, Valium, Klonopin, Ativan, and Librium.

  • Effects: Relief of anxiety or tension, impairment of memory, drowsiness, confusion, stupor, decreased motivation, irritability, and impaired sexual functioning.

Reference Source: George Washington University

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