There are dozens of illegal addictive substances, such as cocaine and methamphetamine, but many others are not only legal, they are easily accessible in almost every home. Caffeine, aerosols, alcohol, nicotine and prescription medicines can all be addictive. A compulsive need for a substance that is habit-forming -- legal or not -- is an addiction.

Addictive substances can be legal, illegal or prescription-only.

Substances which are legal and readily available include:

  • Caffeine: Coffee, tea, soda, sports drinks. Coffee has roughly twice as much caffeine as other sources. Moderate consumption is three cups or less of coffee per day. Ten cups is considered excessive and results in nervousness, sleeping difficulty, increased heartbeat, headaches, anxiety and nausea.
  • Nicotine: Cigarettes, cigars, nicotine patches. Both coffee and nicotine are stimulants that not only increase dopamine levels, but boost adrenaline. Increased adrenaline raises the user's heart rate and blood pressure, and interferes with the release of insulin by the pancreas, leading to elevated blood sugar. Nicotine can also act as a depressant.
  • Alcohol: Wine, beer, liquor. Alcohol is a depressant that affect neurons in the central nervous system which leads to relaxation, drowsiness, lack of inhibition, sleep, coma and even death. Addiction to alcohol is called alcoholism.
  • Inhalants: Aerosols, solvents, gases and nitrates. Products range from paint thinners to hair spray to propane tanks, and inhalation results in a high similar to that of alcohol. Even one-time use of inhalants can kill or cause heart failure.

Some substances are available by prescription only.

  • Amphetamines: Speed, crystal meth. Stimulants that boost alertness and concentration. Adderall, dexedrene and other drugs are normally prescribed for treatment of attention deficit hyperactive disorder. Abuse occurs when they're taken in quantities other than those prescribed or by someone other than the intended patient.
  • Sedative-hypnotic drugs: Benzodiazepines Xanax, Valium, barbiturates, Seconol, phenobarbital. Benzodiazepines are also known as depressants because they depress brain activity. These drugs are prescribed for insomnia, anxiety, seizures and symptoms of bipolar and manic depressive disorder. Even a small overdose of barbiturates used for anesthesia can result in coma, respiratory distress or death.
  • Opioids: Heroin, morphine, oxycodone, codeine and other narcotic pain relievers are very useful when prescribed. They interfere with the way pain messages are sent to the brain and how they brain receives them. Heroin, an illegal drug processed from the poppy-plant product, morphine, is highly addictive. Can be injected, smoked or snorted.

Some substances are illegal in all cases, but can still be widely available.

  • Cannabis: Marijuana, grass, pot, hashish. The most commonly used illegal drug in the U.S., it relaxes the user and concentrated doses may bring euphoria, hallucinations or paranoia. Long-term use can be addictive for some people. Prescribed legally in some states for medical use because it curbs nausea.
  • Cocaine: Coke, crack. Brings users a strong sense of euphoria and energy before leading to agitation, depression and paranoia. A white powder, cocaine comes from the coco plant and is the second most-used illegal drug in America. Can be snorted, sniffed, injected or smoked (crack).
  • Hallucinogens: LSD, ecstasy. Changes the way users perceive time, motion, colors, sound and their own thoughts. Disruption of normal thinking can lead to dangerous behavior.
  • Phencyclidine (PCP): Angel dust. Anesthetic approved only for animal use. A hallucinogen that has sedative qualities producing a dissociative state, or out-of-body experience, along with a euphoric rush. Can be sprinkled on marijuana or other substances and smoked, snorted or taken in pill form. Users can become violent or suicidal, and experience muscle contractions so severe they can lead to bone fractures.

Substance Abuse

According to The Connecticut Statewide Narcotics Task Force publication on "Street Drugs, A Drug Identification Guide"  ... "estimates in 2004, 19.1 million Americans, or 7.9 percent of the population aged 12 or older, were current illicit drug users."

"22.5 million Americans aged 12 or older in 2004 were classified with past year substance dependence or abuse (9.4 percent of the population).  Of these, 3.4 million were classified with dependence on or abuse of both alcohol and illicit drugs, 3.9 million were dependent on or abused illicit drugs but not alcohol, and 15.2 million were dependent on or abused alcohol but not illicit drugs."

For more information read about addictive substances:

The information posted on this web page originates from the The Connecticut Statewide Narcotics Task Force, "Street Drugs, A Drug Identification Guide," and From Addictive Substances on Addictive Substances

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