Information About Alcohol & Other Drugs
Any drug that distorts the operations of the central nervous system (CNS) is considered a psychoactive drug. Each of these drugs has the capacity to enter the bloodstream, circulate throughout the body and cross the blood brain barrier, altering the function of the CNS. Many psychoactive drugs become drugs of abuse.
More Information About Drugs
Psychoactive drugs are not new. They have been used as a shortcut to altered consciousness for much of the history of human beings. The use of drugs such as alcohol, opiates, marijuana, psychedelic mushrooms, cocaine, tobacco and other mood altering drugs have been documented for centuries in most human societies. Why? Because they work! They seem to take care of problems and they allow us to have experiences that may not be so accessible without drugs. We realized early in our history that drugs could be used…
…as medicines. Some drugs work wonderfully well for pain control, sedation and anxiety relief. Others control diarrhea and cramps or take care of other symptoms of disease. Sometimes they even cure disease.
…as a mechanism for inducing pleasure, even euphoria.
…as an access to religious experiences – for sacred ceremonies and rituals, or to create visions There are numerous reasons for humans to seek drugs. Drugs have all kinds of effects; some desirable, some not.
- Pain Relief
- Anxiety control
- Competitive edge
- Peer acceptance
- Social grease
- Boredom relief
- To “solve” life problems
We usually call those effects that we do not want “side effects.” One of the earmarks of addiction is to tolerate increasingly serious side effects in the search for the desired effects.
Methods of drug classification vary, since there is overlap among drug effects and a variety of reasons for classifying them. The Federal Drug Enforcement Agency (FDEA), for instance, classifies drugs on “schedules,” determined by their perceived potential for abuse and illegal activity. On FDEA schedules, marijuana and heroin are listed together as Schedule I drugs, though their actions on the body are quite dissimilar. Other classifications group drugs according to their chemical makeup and their effects on the body.
For our purposes, the categories of drugs we are concerned about are those which cause intoxication, create dependence and can be self-administered. We will borrow and summarize a particularly useful, practical classification system offered by Inaba, Cohen and Holstein in their text, Uppers, Downers, All Arounders (4th. Edition, 2004) which offers a clear overview of abused drugs and their effects.
Uppers (CNS Stimulants)
Stimulants include cocaine, amphetamines, nicotine and caffeine – all of which stimulate activity of the central nervous system. The effects – more energy, increased confidence, decreased appetite and pursuant weight loss – are sought in our society. Stimulants can make the user feel that instincts – such as the need to eat or sleep – have been satisfied. Learn more about uppers.
Downers (CNS Depressants)
These are the drugs which slow the functioning of the CNS and tend to slow the body and mind. They include alcohol, opiates, barbiturates, benzodiazepines and antihistamines. The effects of downers can be very pleasurable. In fact, it has been said of heroin, “It’s too good to try even once.” Learn more about Opiates.
Cannabis has been in use for many centuries. The widespread use in the United States is a phenomenon of the last third of the 20th century. The negative impact of this drug has been underestimated by most users, but research and anecdotal experience are showing a dangerous underbelly to this “harmless” drug. Learn more about Marijuana.
The narcotic analgesic drugs are our great pain relievers. Some of these drugs – opium, morphine and codeine – are derived directly from the opium poppy. Some are synthesized, such as heroin, Percodan, methadone, Dilaudid, Demerol and Darvon. Opiates are currently our most effective pain control drugs but have huge potential for addiction. Learn more about Opiates.
Prescription drugs are a great help to society. Drugs such as barbiturates, benzodiazepines, opiates, diet pills and even some antihistamines serve important medical functions, but are mood altering and carry a risk for addiction – sometimes even when used according to physicians’ directions. Learn more about prescription drugs.