Many people don’t understand why or how other people become addicted to drugs. They may mistakenly think that those who use drugs lack moral principles or willpower and that they could stop their drug use simply by choosing to. In reality, drug addiction is a complex disease, and quitting usually takes more than good intentions or a strong will. Drugs change the brain in ways that make quitting hard, even for those who want to.

No one factor can predict if a person will become addicted to drugs. A combination of factors influences the risk of addiction.

So understanding the drugs that cause the most damage to your body, your family and your community have the highest potential for abuse and addiction.

Here is a list of the commonly abused illicit drugs and how it affects the body.

Heroin

Heroin is derived from morphine and is powerfully addictive. Like cocaine, it is snorted, injected or smoked. All three methods may lead to addiction and other health problems. Short-term effects include euphoria, decreased mental function and drowsiness. Chronic heroin users may develop physical dependence and experience withdrawal symptoms upon discontinuing the drug. Negative long-term effects of heroin use include liver or kidney disease, pneumonia, HIV/AIDS or hepatitis (as a result of sharing needles), organ damage or collapsed veins.

Cocaine

Cocaine is an extremely addictive drug that is snorted, injected or smoked. Immediate effects include increased energy, reduced fatigue and mental alertness. However, these effects last only about 5 to 30 minutes, depending on the route of administration. Repeat cocaine users develop tolerance to the drug and have to use increasing amounts in order to achieve the same effect, which in turn increases the risk of harmful effects such as irritability, headaches, gastrointestinal issues, heart attacks, seizures or psychoses.

Inhalants

Inhalants are a group of substances that produce mind-altering effects when inhaled. Inhalants may include common household items such as cleaning products, gasoline, art supplies, hair sprays or rubber cement. Children and adolescents are especially at risk for using inhalants because of the ease of obtaining them. The “high” caused by inhalants only lasts a few minutes, so individuals may use them continuously over several hours to maintain the effects. The impact of using inhalants is similar to that of alcohol—lack of coordination, euphoria and dizziness. Long-term effects include brain damage, muscle spasms and problems with coordination and/or movement.

Hallucinogens

Hallucinogens include lysergic acid diethylamide (“acid” or LSD), peyote, psilocybin (“magic” mushrooms), and phencyclidine (PCP). The effects of hallucinogens vary, so the impact of using them is hard to predict, but generally, they cause people to see, hear or feel things that do not actually exist.

They may also cause intense mood swings. Negative side effects differ by the substance. PCP may cause users to become violent, and its use may result in seizures, coma or death. Psilocybin may cause nausea, drowsiness or vomiting; the misidentification of the mushrooms may lead to poisoning. LSD and peyote can raise body temperature, heart rate and blood pressure.

Marijuana

Marijuana is usually smoked in cigarette, pipe or cigar form. The main ingredient in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), acts on cannabinoid receptors in the brain to cause a “high” feeling. The effects include distorted perceptions, problems in thinking/problem solving, impaired coordination and difficulty with memory. These side effects may last even after the drug has worn off. Adverse health effects associated with marijuana include heart attacks, respiratory problems and lung infections. Studies also show that employees who use marijuana have increased absences, tardiness, accidents and workers’ compensation claims compared to non-users.

Methamphetamine

Methamphetamine is a white powder that is snorted, injected, smoked or taken orally. It is available as a prescription, but much of the methamphetamine available in this country is made in illegal labs. In the short term, methamphetamine increases dopamine production, which is related to pleasure, motivation and motor function. However, in the long term, chronic methamphetamine use is associated with a decrease in motor performance, reduced learning ability and emotional/cognitive problems. Methamphetamine may also cause extreme weight loss, dental problems, violent behaviour, anxiety and insomnia.

Ecstasy

Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), known as ecstasy, is taken orally and has stimulant and psychedelic properties (meaning that it can cause hallucinations). Short-term effects include increased feelings of energy, mental stimulation, emotional warmth and sensory perception. However, ecstasy may also cause confusion, depression, insomnia and anxiety. Chronic use may lead to memory problems. On rare occasions, individuals have died from the use of ecstasy.