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Illicit drugs refer to highly addictive and illegal substances such as heroin, marijuana and meth. While the decision to use one of these drugs for the first time is usually a voluntary one, an unexpected addiction can make the decision to quit later significantly harder.

Over time, a user may become hooked on the mental or physical effects of the drug. This leads to the user needing more of the substance to get the same effects. Without help, a person with an illicit drug addiction will often put their health and safety in danger.

People with a drug addiction often say they are never “cured.” They learn to cope with their disease. Relapses can occur, but it’s important that the person seeking treatment gets back on track and continues treatment. It’s also important to develop a strong support system that includes sober people to help with long-term recovery.

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Types of Illicit Drugs


A powerfully addictive stimulant that normally comes in a powder form. Cocaine is most commonly snorted or injected, and can also be smoked or administered to the skin.

Crack Cocaine

The more pure and potent form of cocaine, which typically comes in solid blocks or crystals. Crack cocaine is typically smoked, allowing it to reach the brain more quickly and result in a short-lived – yet intense – high. It is also increasingly commonly injected.


Considered a party drug or rave drug. Its psychoactive effects include enhanced sensory perception and can cause lowered inhibition. Ecstasy is most commonly taken orally in pill form or dissolved in water, but can also be snorted or injected.


LSD, PCP, mushrooms and salvia are all examples of psychoactive or mind-altering drugs. While an addiction to this type of drug is less common than other drugs, use and abuse of these substances can cause severe negative side effects.


An extremely addictive substance that is synthetically derived from the opium poppy plant. It comes in the form of white of brownish powder, or as a black and sticky substance known as “black tar.” Heroin is most commonly injected, though it can also be snorted, smoked, or consumed orally.


Include household items such as spray paints, markers and cleaning supplies which are inhaled through the mouth or nose in order to achieve a high. Inhaling certain types of these substances can lead to heart failure, resulting in death.


This substance is medically used as an anesthetic in veterinary practice. When abused, ketamine can cause hallucinations, sedation and confusion.


One of the most commonly abused illicit substances. The main psychoactive ingredient, THC, causes temporary euphoria followed by drowsiness, slowed reaction time and increased appetite.


An extremely dangerous stimulant that can cause users to become instantly addicted. The short-term effects of meth include alertness and euphoria. However, long-term use of meth can lead to problems such as violent behavior, severe dental problems, psychosis, and severe paranoia.

warning signs

Some people addicted to illicit drugs might mix several different substances together. They may also alternate between taking different drugs. But no matter how the drugs are taken, there are certain behaviors that may indicate an addiction...

  • Significant, unusual, or sudden changes in energy level

  • Aggressive behavior or violent mood swings

  • Preoccupation with getting and using drugs

  • Withdrawal from friends and family

  • New friendships with other users

  • Attending social events where the drug will be present

  • Chronic health problems or continued use of the drug despite physical risks

  • Behavior which violates one’s personal morals or values in order to obtain the drug

  • Legal or professional consequences from illicit drug use, such as an arrest or loss of a job



Often it can be difficult for someone addicted to drugs to stop using them and stay sober without professional help. Many people need to be under a doctor’s supervision for the first few weeks of sobriety so they can detox safely. A combination of the following treatment options may be necessary...

Inpatient rehabilitation program

An inpatient program is often the best start for a person with an addiction to illicit drugs. In the beginning, the person may have several negative physical symptoms as their body adjusts to not having the drug. After the physical withdrawal, they can focus on staying clean in a safe environment. The length of inpatient programs can vary.

Outpatient rehabilitation program

In an outpatient program people attend classes and counseling at a facility. But they continue to live at home and attend daily activities, like work.

12-step programs

Programs like Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and Drug Addicts Anonymous (DAA) follow the same recovery method as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

These programs are centered on principles known as the 12 Steps. These programs also act as support groups by involving other people with addictions.

Psychotherapy or cognitive behavioral therapy

Drug addiction often involves emotional issues that need to be dealt with in order to change self-destructive patterns. A therapist can help someone with a drug addiction cope with the emotions involved in recovery, as a person with addiction may have to deal with feelings of depression, guilt, and shame.

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