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The 4 Main Groups of Recreational Drugs

While drugs certainly have their place in our society, with prescription medications improving illness recovery and quality of life for millions every year, the danger of recreational drugs continues to be a persistent issue.

Recreational drugs can include illegal street drugs with no medical purpose or medical drugs that are willfully used in a way other than prescribed by a doctor. While the specific types of drugs which can be used recreationally number in the hundreds if not thousands, most can be categorized under one of the four main groups of recreational drugs: stimulants, depressants, opioids, and hallucinogens.

1. Stimulants

As the name suggests, stimulants are drugs that tend to cause increased energy and hyperactivity. Also called “uppers,” drugs in this category are often abused as shortcuts to enhance performance and focus, or to induce a feeling of euphoria by increasing dopamine levels in the user’s brain.

If abused in the long term, however, stimulants become distinctly dangerous. Not only are many stimulants highly addictive, but users may begin to develop a tolerance for their stimulant of choice, necessitating the use of higher and higher dosages to achieve the same effect. Furthermore, many of these drugs carry significant side effects and health consequences, especially as dosages increase. So it is vital for anyone who may be abusing stimulants to get help quickly.

While the signs and side effects of stimulant abuse will depend on the specific drug being used, some effects can include loss of appetite, weight loss, sleep deprivation, overstimulation, seizures, aggression, paranoia, and manic states. As with other drugs, many stimulants also carry the potential for overdose and death. If you notice a loved one with these symptoms, encourage them to seek out professional support or rehab.

Commonly abused stimulants:

  • Cocaine
  • Amphetamines/Methamphetamine
  • MDMA
  • Ritalin
  • Adderall

2. Depressants

In contrast to stimulants, depressants are drugs that reduce focus and hyperactivity. Affecting the central nervous system, depressants slow down neural messages that run between the brain and the body, affecting concentration and coordination. Though also called “downers,” depressants do not necessarily make users feel sad or depressed emotionally. Rather, they are used recreationally for relaxation, producing a mellow and uninhibited feeling.

While not always as flashy or noticeable as stimulants, depressants can be equally dangerous and addictive. It’s important to remember that there is no such thing as a “safe” amount or dosage of drugs used recreationally, which always carry some level of risk.

Varying based on the specific drug, signs and side effects of depressant use can include slowed reaction times, impaired judgment, poor coordination, blackouts, shallow breathing, vomiting, and unconsciousness. Sometimes, depressant usage can also create so-called paradoxical effects, such as nightmares, anxiety, and aggression.

As with stimulants, depressant overdose can lead to serious consequences such as coma or death. Anyone struggling with depressant abuse is encouraged to take advantage of professional support as soon as possible.

Commonly abused depressants:

  • Alcohol
  • Barbiturates
  • Benzodiazepines 
  • Klonopin
  • GHB
  • Sleeping pills
  • Xanax

3. Opioids

Opioids are currently considered an especially dangerous class of drugs in the United States as the country struggles with an ongoing opioid epidemic. Exceptionally addictive painkillers, opioids are popular recreationally for their ability to produce a relaxed and happy high feeling.

However, not all recreational opioid users intentionally begin abusing these drugs. One contributing factor to the opioid crisis is the over-prescription of opioids for medical use. Many legitimate patients begin using opioids for pain relief after surgery or to ease discomfort from chronic medical conditions. When used for more than a short period, though, opioids can quickly cause dependency and addiction. As such, many patients prescribed opioids may unintentionally slide into opioid abuse.

Signs and symptoms of opioid abuse can include drowsiness, uncontrollable cravings, weight loss, decreased libido, flu-like symptoms. Opioids may also contribute to changes in behavior such as pulling away from loved ones, decreased hygiene, new or increased financial difficulties, and theft.

Commonly abused opioids:

  • OxyContin
  • Vicodin
  • Fentanyl
  • Heroin
  • Morphine

4. Hallucinogens

One of the most diverse categories of recreational drugs, hallucinogens are substances that alter the user’s awareness of reality, including their perception of their surroundings, thoughts, and feelings.

Hallucinogens are often divided further into two classes known as “classic hallucinogens” and “dissociative drugs,” but both types can cause hallucinations, illusory sensations, and out-of-body experiences. They are often used as recreational drugs for fun or to induce a spiritual experience.

Apart from sensory hallucinations, signs and symptoms of hallucinogen use may include nausea, increased heart rate, false perception of time, dry mouth, sweating, panic, paranoia, lack of coordination, and extremely erratic behavior. Often, someone on hallucinogens will appear to behave in nonsensical or illogical ways, reacting to events or stimuli that others cannot perceive.

In the short term, hallucinogens can cause users to make risky and potentially harmful decisions, as they are not fully aware of reality. These drugs can also lead to persistent psychosis and flashbacks, even when someone is not actively using them. It’s extremely important to note that these conditions are not necessarily a result of long-term use — even one single use of hallucinogens can potentially cause life-long side effects.

Commonly abused hallucinogens:

  • “Magic” mushrooms
  • LSD
  • PCP
  • Ketamine

Countrywide Testing

If you or a loved one is struggling with the use of recreational drugs of any type, the first step toward recovery is recognizing the problem. Countrywide Testing is here to help.

Countrywide Testing is an online store providing individuals, companies, and facilities with access to drug tests and pharmacogenetic testing. We offer an array of drug tests and panels to support home testing, individuals staying clean after rehab, workplace testing, healthcare emergencies, and law enforcement purposes. 

Our test kits are convenient, affordable, and ship to you quickly. Plus, our lab is SAMHSA accredited, so you can rest assured your test results are handled in accordance with the highest industry standards.

To find out more about Countrywide’s drug testing solutions, contact our team today. Our experts are ready and waiting to help you find the right drug tests to meet your needs.



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