6 Types of Drugs and Their Effects

Many drugs that are abused have two characteristics in common:

  1. They cause euphoria: Euphoria is a sense of pleasure, also known as a “high.” People are likely to abuse drugs that cause euphoria in hopes of experiencing that high.
  2. They cause physical dependence: Some drugs cause your body to become dependent on them. When you stop taking them, you can experience withdrawal and cravings, which leads people to keep using.

The more you know about types of drugs and what they do, the better you can recognize signs of drug abuse—both in yourself and in your loved ones.

Wondering how many types of drugs there are and what they do to your body? Read ahead for a list of the six categories of drugs and their effects:

#1: Stimulant Drugs

Stimulants cause your body’s nervous system to become overactive. This causes effects such as:

  • Increased alertness and focus
  • Sexual arousal
  • High blood pressure
  • Increased sweating or overheating
  • Less need for sleep
  • Low appetite
  • Increased desire for physical activity
  • Pinpoint pupils

Drugs that are stimulants can be natural, synthetic, or prescription drugs that are abused.

Some examples of drugs that are stimulants include:

  • Amphetamines
  • Cocaine
  • Crack Cocaine
  • Adderall
  • Dexedrine
  • Ecstasy
  • Methamphetamine (Crystal Meth)
  • MDVP
  • Khat
  • Ritalin (Methylphenidate)
  • Bath Salts
  • Vyvanse

Coming off stimulant drugs is known as the “crash” because it causes depression, lethargy, confusion, and mood changes. Avoiding a crash can cause users to keep dosing, leading to addiction.

#2: Opioid Drugs

Opioid drugs are substances that relieve pain. They cause a sense of euphoria, or a “high,” which leads some patients to abuse their medication.

Prescription opioid drugs can lead to street heroin use and addiction. 29% of patients who receive a prescription for an opioid abuse that prescription. Of those, 10% go on to develop a substance abuse disorder.

Some common opioid drugs include:

  • Buprenorphine
  • Hydrocodone
  • Hydromorphone
  • Morphine
  • Vicodin
  • Percocet
  • Oxycontin
  • Codeine
  • Fentanyl
  • Heroin
  • Methadone
  • Naltrexone
  • Opium
  • Oxycodone

Parts of the brain that are affected by drug use include the medulla and pons, which regulate breathing. Abusing opioid drugs can cause breathing problems and death.

It’s important to call 911 right away if someone you know is having an opioid overdose. The signs include trouble waking, slow breathing, blue skin, and inability to respond to sounds or touch.

#3: Hallucinogenic Drugs

Also known as psychedelic drugs, hallucinogenic drugs cause you to disconnect from your sense of reality.

Psychedelic drugs and the brain interact at the prefrontal cortex. This part of the brain handles mood and perception. You might experience hallucinations where you see or hear things that aren’t real.

Common side effects of Hallucinogens include:

  • An increase in the breathing rate, temperature, and blood pressure
  • Excessive body sweating
  • Loss of appetite
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Dry Mouth
  • Problems sleeping
  • Visual disturbances
  • Disorganized thinking
  • Paranoia
  • Mood changes

Some common psychedelic drugs include:

  • Ayahuasca, an herbal drink made from the B. cappi vine in South America
  • LSD, known as acid or Lucy
  • Peyote (Mescaline)
  • DMT
  • NBOMe, or 25I-NBOMe, known as N-bomb
  • Psilocybin mushrooms, known as shrooms or magic mushrooms

Psychedelic drugs don’t cause dependence like some other kinds of drugs. However, you can still become addicted if you abuse these substances.

#4: Empathogenic Drugs

Also known as club drugs, empathogens cause a deep sense of belonging or connection. For this reason, they’re a common type of drug pill used at music festivals.

Effects of Empathogens

  • Dehydration
  • Electrolyte imbalances
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Increased energy
  • Increased empathy and understanding
  • Sense of belonging and connection
  • Sexual arousal
  • Overheating

Some types of club drugs include:

  • PMA, or paramethoxyamphetamine, a substance that mimics ecstasy but with severe side effects
  • Mephredone, known as M-Kat or meow meow and often sold as bath salts
  • MDMA, known as ecstasy
  • Ethylone, sold as bath salts or plant food

It’s common to experience negative side effects from empathogens when you’re exercising vigorously (such as dancing) or drinking too much or not enough water.

#5: Synthetic Drugs

Synthetic drugs are lab-created substances that mimic the effects of illicit drugs. Lab-made marijuana and molly have been sold on the street, causing negative side effects and even death from the unpredictable ingredients.

The most common kinds of synthetic drugs include:

  • Spice, sold as synthetic marijuana or K2
  • Phenethylamine, a stimulant sold as PEA
  • PCP, or phencyclidine, a stimulant sold as angel dust
  • Methoxamine, sold as MXE and made to mimic ketamine
  • Ketamine, a drug abused to cause trance-like effects

The effects of synthetic drugs vary from drug to drug, but they can include:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Euphoria
  • Fever and sweating
  • Increased heart rate
  • Mood changes

Synthetics are one of the most dangerous types of drugs and their effects can be lethal. Get help right away if you or someone you know is using synthetic drugs.

#6: Benzodiazepine Drugs

Benzodiazepines are drugs used to treat anxiety disorders, seizure disorders, and insomnia. They’re often known as “benzos.” They work by slowing the nervous system, causing effects such as:

  • Amnesia
  • Calmness
  • Desire to sleep
  • Euphoria
  • Muscle relaxation
  • Sedation

Some of the most commonly abused benzodiazepine drugs include:

  • Xanax
  • Klonopin
  • Librium
  • Valium
  • Restoril
  • Ativan (Lorazepam)
  • Halcion (Triazolam)

Like opioids, benzos can cause trouble breathing and overdose when abused. Call 911 if you see signs of a benzo overdose in a loved one, including blue skin, slowed breathing, unconsciousness, and an inability to respond to sound or touch.

Get Treatment for Drug Abuse

Are you ready to take back your life from drug abuse? Get treatment for substance abuse by getting in touch with a certified treatment center. Your treatment will be tailored to your needs and medical history, and might include:

  • Inpatient or outpatient therapy: Depending on how much monitoring your condition needs, inpatient treatment could be the right option for you. On the other hand, outpatient treatment is an option for patients with more stability.
  • Talk therapy: Cognitive-behavioral therapy for substance abuse helps you learn why you use so you can avoid your triggers.
  • Group therapy: Group therapy can take the form of family support groups or 12-step groups. Social support is a big part of recovery and can help you stick to your new lifestyle.
  • Medication-assisted treatment: While not available for all kinds of substance abuse treatment, medication can prevent withdrawal and cravings. This treatment is available for detox from opioids and sometimes alcohol.
  • Symptom management: The physical and mental symptoms of withdrawal can be painful. Being under medical care during detox can help relieve some of the discomfort.

Detox doesn’t have to be hard with the right treatment and support. Make that call today, it can’t wait! Your journey to sober living starts today.


  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse: Opioid overdose crisis
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse: Commonly abused drugs chart
  3. Foundation for a Drug-Free World: Stimulants
  4. ScienceDaily: Psychedelic drugs
  5. Foundation for a Drug-Free World: What is a synthetic drug?

Written by
Northeast Addition Editorial Team

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This page does not provide medical advice.