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Illicit Drug Abuse and Treatment

Updated: Feb 7, 2023

Illicit drugs are illegal substances such as cocaine, marijuana, meth, and heroin. They are dangerously addictive, and their use regularly destroys lives. Learn the signs and treatments for illicit drugs.

What Are Illicit Drugs Illicit drugs are illegal substances such as cocaine, marijuana, meth, ecstasy, and hallucinogens. Being illicit, they are illegal to use, possess, or sell. They are dangerously addictive, and their use regularly consumes the person, their life, and their freedom. Learning the warning signs and how to seek help are the first steps on the road to recovery.

Effects of Illicit

Drug Abuse Drugs like cocaine, meth, and heroin are especially challenging to overcome because they lead to both a physical and psychological dependence on the substance.

Physical Dependence

The initial mark of an illegal substance abuse disorder is debilitating physical dependence. These symptoms begin when a user builds a tolerance to the substance. Tolerance builds over time and commonly results in the drug user taking higher and higher doses of the drug to achieve the once-desired effects.

Once a high physical tolerance is built, the addict may experience painful and dangerous withdrawal symptoms when the drug use is interrupted and the substance begins to leave their system.

Universal Side-Effects of Illicit Drugs

Common side effects of many drug withdrawals include heart palpitations, seizures, nausea, and hallucinations.

Psychological Dependence

The second form of dependence in a substance abuse disorder is psychological. This kind of dependence forms as the user feels that they need the drug to feel normal. Unlike physical dependence, psychological dependence is subjective and can differ case-by-case.

Many people convince themselves that they cannot do everyday tasks like having conversations or completing work without the drug, especially in cocaine addiction cases.

People with psychological dependence can experience a vicious internal battle where they know they must stop using the drug to live a better life but continuously fail to remain sober.

Types of Illicit Drugs

If you or someone in your life is caught in the grip of substance abuse, your experience is far from unusual. A 2012 study by the DHS revealed an awful estimate that 23.9 million Americans over the age of 12 had used an illicit drug in the month predating the survey. That is almost 10 percent of all American adolescents and adults.

The most common illicit drugs in the United States include:


Cocaine is a powerful stimulant produced from the leaves of the South American coca plant. Due to glamorization in movies and books and its stimulating effects, cocaine is a popular street drug among young professionals.

It usually comes in a powdered form and can be snorted, smoked, rubbed into the gums, or dissolved into a liquid for injection. If you hear someone discussing bumps, snow, white, or blow, they are talking about cocaine.

Crack Cocaine

Crack is the purer, more potent derivative of powdered cocaine. Crack cocaine is sold cheaper on the streets and causes a short-live

d and intense high. This form of cocaine is sold in crystals or blocks and is either smoked or injected.


Heroin is an incredibly addictive substance that is synthetically derived from the opium poppy plant. It comes in the form of a white or brownish powder or a black and sticky substance known as black tar heroin. Heroin is injected, snorted, smoked, or consumed orally.


Ecstasy is a popular party drug among young adults and adolescents for its euphoric side effects. When under ecstasy influence, the user experiences enhanced sensory perception, lowered inhibition, and intense contentment feelings.

The drug is taken as a pill, dissolved into water, snorted, or injected. Its popularity also may be partly due to the misconception that ecstasy is non-addictive. This is false, and ecstasy addiction is a disastrous consequence for many Americans.


Ketamine is a veterinary anesthetic. On the street, people may refer to ketamine as horse tranquilizers or Special K. When taken in massive quantities, it can cause hallucinations, confusion, and sedation.


Marijuana, cannabis, pot, and Mary Jane, is the most commonly abused illegal drug. THC is the primary psychoactive ingredient present in cannabis and causes a temporary euphoria that then turns into drowsiness, delayed reactions, hunger, and irritability.


Like most illicit substances, one use of meth can cause a crippling addiction. Meth is a dangerous, fast-acting stimulant whose short-term effects include euphoria, alertness, and energy. However, when abused over the long term, meth is notorious for leading people down a path of violent behavior, psychosis, dental problems, and severe paranoia.


Inhalants are often abused and experimented with by adolescents due to their accessibility. Many parents would never suspect their spray paints or cleaning supplies doubling as an illicit drugs. To achieve a brief and intense high, users will inhale these household products. In the worst scenarios, some of these substances lead to heart failure and death.


LSD, PCP, mushrooms, and salvia all qualify as psychoactive or mind-altering drugs. While forming an addiction to these drugs is less common than the others listed, the use and abuse of these substances can still cause severe side effects and dangerous overdoses.

Signs of Illicit Drug Addiction

​Even when taken in small doses, repeated illicit drug use poses serious health risks. Just one use is enough to develop life-destroying addiction to substances like meth, cocaine, and heroin.

Though the symptoms and signs of illicit drug addiction can present differently depending on the substance, you can keep a vigilant eye out for these signs:

  • Deteriorating relationships with family, friends, and romantic partners

  • Failure to keep up with obligations and responsibilities

  • Lacking motivation

  • Disappearances

  • Getting arrested or into trouble with the law

  • Routinely displaying signs of withdrawal

  • Violence or other uncharacteristic behavior

Getting Help for Illegal Drug Addiction ​

Though the road to recovery is long and fraught with obstacles, sobriety is possible and within reach. With the right comprehensive treatment plan and support system, you or your loved one can regain freedom and rediscover a fulfilling and worthwhile life. Get on the road to recovery with a call to our treatment navigators. They will help guide you to the right treatment for your unique situation.


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