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Drug Classes

There are five classes of drugs regulated by The Controlled Substances Act (CSA). They include: narcotics, depressants, stimulants, hallucinogens, and anabolic steroids. Each class has unique properties, and drugs within each class often produce similar effects. However, all controlled substances, regardless of class, share a number of common traits. Since this is the case, it’s important to familiarize readers with some of these shared features and to give definitions of terms commonly associated with these drugs of abuse.

Except for anabolic steroids, drugs in the other classes are used to alter mood, thought, and feeling by affecting the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). For example, some of these drugs ease pain, anxiety, or depression. Some help you sleep and others give you energy. Even though these drugs feel like they’re helping with a problem, the “feel good” effects contribute to their abuse. When you can take something that creates intensely pleasurable feelings (euphoria) the chances of abusing that substance is extremely likely. When one becones addicted drug detox and drug rehab may be necessary.

Drug abuse can be defined as drugs that are used in a manner or amount that conflict with the medical or social patterns of a culture. If any of the five classes of drugs are used illegitimately, it is considered drug abuse. When legal pharmaceuticals placed under control in the CSA are prescribed and used by patients for medical treatment, the use of these pharmaceuticals for any other reason than their medical treatment would be considered drug abuse.

Most controlled substances can produce dependence, either physically or psychologically, which increases potential for their abuse. Physical dependence is what happens when changes that have occurred in the body after repeated use of a drug make it necessary to continue the use of the drug to prevent a withdrawal syndrome. The symptoms can range from mildly unpleasant to life-threatening and depend on a number of factors. The type of withdrawal experienced is related to the drug being used; the dose and way that it’s administered; multiple drugs being taken at the same time; frequency and duration of drug use; and the age, sex, health, and genetic makeup of the user. Psychological dependence refers to the "need" or "craving" for a drug. People who are psychologically dependent on a particular substance often feel like they can’t function without continued use of that substance. While physical dependence goes away within days or weeks after drug use stops, psychological dependence can last much longer and is one of the primary reasons for relapse. Again, the best wat to prevent relapse is through completing a drug treatment program.

Physical dependence is not addiction, contrary to common belief. Even though addicts are usually physically dependent on the drug they are abusing, physical dependence can exist without addiction. For example, there are patients who take narcotics for chronic pain management or benzodiazepines to treat anxiety. An addicted person generally displays compulsive drug-seeking behavior where acquiring and using a drug becomes the most important activity in the user's life. This definition implies a loss of control regarding drug use, and the addict will continue to use a drug despite serious medical and/or social consequences. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates that about five million Americans suffer from drug addiction.

Individuals that abuse drugs often have a preferred drug that they use, but may substitute other drugs that produce similar effects (often found in the same drug class) when they have difficulty obtaining their drug of choice. Drugs within a class are often compared with each other with terms like potency and effectiveness. Potency refers to the amount of a drug that must be taken to produce a certain effect, while effectiveness refers to whether or not a drug is capable of producing a given effect regardless of dose. Both the strength and the ability of a substance to produce certain effects play a role in whether that drug is selected by the drug abuser.

It’s important to keep in mind that the effects produced by any drug can vary significantly and is largely dependent on the dose and way that it is administered. Concurrent use of other drugs can enhance or block an effect and substance abusers often take more than one drug to boost the desired effects or counter unwanted side effects. This means that the risks involved with drug abuse cannot be accurately predicted because each user has his or her-own unique sensitivity to a drug. There are a number of theories that attempt to explain these differences, and it is clear that genetics can predispose an individual to certain toxicities or even addictive behavior.

Youths are especially vulnerable to drug abuse. According to NIDA, young Americans engaged in extraordinary levels of illicit drug use in the last third of the twentieth century. Today, the majority of young people (about 55 percent) have used an illicit drug by the time they leave high school and about 25 percent of all seniors are current (within the past month) users. The behaviors associated with teen and preteen drug use, often result in tragic consequences with untold harm to others, themselves, and their families. For example, an analysis of data from the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse shows that youngsters between the ages of 12 and 17 who have smoked marijuana within the past year are more than twice as likely to cut class, steal, attack people, and destroy property than are those who did not smoke marijuana. The more frequently a youth smokes marijuana, the more likely he or she is to engage in these antisocial behaviors.

In the sections that follow, each of the five classes of drugs is reviewed and various drugs within each class are profiled. Although marijuana is classified in the CSA as a hallucinogen, a separate section is dedicated to that topic. There are also a number of substances that are abused but not regulated under the CSA. Alcohol and tobacco, for example, are specifically exempt from control by the CSA. In addition, a whole group of substances called inhalants are commonly available and widely abused by children. Control of these substances under the CSA would not only impede legitimate commerce, but would likely have little effect on the abuse of these substances by youngsters. An energetic campaign aimed at educating both adults and youth about inhalants is more likely to prevent their abuse. To that end, a section is dedicated to providing information on inhalants. The last section in this publication is entitled, U.S. Chemical Control. In recent years, a significant effort has been initiated by the United States to reduce the availability of clandestinely produced drugs by limiting the availability of chemicals and equipment needed to produce them. This section provides information on chemical control and specifically lists those chemicals that are currently regulated under the CSA.

Information provided by DEA.gov


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