Even though laws are put in place to protect a country’s citizens, they can’t always be a surefire way to prevent all bad things from happening to them. This is especially true when talking about addiction; the law distinguishes between legal vs. illegal drugs, but that doesn’t stop some people from abusing each of them. There are many dangerous and addictive legal drugs, and you can find them anywhere from your doctor’s office to your local pharmacy.
Even though medications are made to help people feel their best, the individual can abuse them to the point of feeling physically and mentally worse. These seemly harmless over-the-counter legal drugs can cause chronic problems, serious side effects, and even accidental overdose. In 2015, there were 263.47 billion sales from pharmacy and drug stores in the United States alone. With these statistics on the rise, more and more people are being affected negatively by legal drugs.
The Most Dangerous and Addictive Legal Drugs
Alcohol — Most people forget that alcohol is a drug, too. Even though alcohol is legal for individuals who are at least 21 years old in the United States, it’s addictive and dangerous qualities can leave detrimental effects on the person’s physical health and personal life. The substance can be found in beer, wine, and liquor. Alcohol makes the individual feel happier as it dulls their pain and impairs their judgment. Long-term alcohol use can result in sexual problems, high blood pressure, and brain damage.
Nicotine — Nicotine is the substance in cigarettes that causes people to become addicted to them. Both a stimulant and a relaxant, the drug causes people to experience a pleasant feeling as well as a rush of adrenaline. About 40 million adults in the United States still smoke cigarettes even though the statistics have been decreasing over the years, and the CDC states the smoking cigarettes is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States.
Caffeine — Even though coffee is a vital part of many individual’s morning routines, it contains one of the most addictive substances: caffeine. This drug can also be found in chocolate, soda, tea, and many other foods and drinks that we may not even realize. Caffeine can cause insomnia, increased heart rate, and twitching, while caffeine withdrawal symptoms may include lethargy, headaches, and dizziness.
Valium — Valium is the fourth most prescribed drug in the United States. It has been prescribed to treat individuals with sleeping problems, anxiety disorders, and seizure disorders. Many people who take Valium for long periods of time end up forming a dependence on the drug, which means that they cannot function properly in absence of the drug. Side effects of Valium can range from drowsiness to depression.
Opioids — Even though some opioid drugs are very illegal, some of these painkillers can be prescribed by doctors to relieve pain. They are a commonly abused medication due to their tendency to change brain chemistry and become incredibly addictive. These drugs release dopamine in the brain that creates euphoric experiences for the individual. People may also stay on opioid drugs to avoid the harsh withdrawal symptoms that come in the absence of the drug.
Ritalin — Commonly prescribed to treat ADHD or ADD, Ritalin works on the brain similar to how cocaine does. This drug contains the active ingredient methylphenidate, and there were about 16 million prescriptions for these types of drugs in 2012. Ritalin’s side effects include nervousness, heart palpitations, and vision problems. Although legal, long-term use of this drug can result in liver and kidney damage, malnutrition, or heart attack and stroke.
Adderall — This drug is commonly used by individuals who need to stay awake for long periods of time such as students or athletes. Adderall is similar to Ritalin because of its use for people with ADHD, but it can be more addictive because of its longer-lasting effects. The drug produces high levels of dopamine in the brain which makes the individual experience insomnia, headaches, and restlessness. Even though this drug is legal, over 116,000 Americans were admitted to a rehabilitation program for addiction to medications like Adderall.
Ambien — Ambien is a legal medication prescribed to help people with sleeping problems. Long-term Ambien use results in people not being able to sleep without the drug at all; their body becomes dependent on it. Ambien can also cause individuals to feel more anxious during the day, become extremely hungry, and do strange things at nighttime when sleep is supposed to be taking place. It has been known for Ambien users to have blackouts; they may get into their cars at night and wreck with no memory the next day of what happened.
Why are Some Drugs More Dangerous than Others?
Drugs interfere with the brain’s communication system, also known as the brain’s neurotransmitters. Some drugs release a lot larger amount of neurotransmitters than other drugs do, and this prevents them from recycling neurotransmitters. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), addiction is defined as, “a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. It is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain — they change its structure and how it works. These brain changes can be long-lasting, and can lead to the harmful behaviors seen in people who abuse drugs.”
So, why are certain drugs illegal and not others? Some of the most common illicit drugs fall into the psychoactive category, which are drugs used mainly for recreation with no medical purposes. When a drug is not considered to have a reason for consumption that will benefit the person’s physical or mental health, it is usually considered to be illegal. In the United States, legal drugs are classified into Schedule I, II, III, or IV drugs, and if a drug does not fit into one of these categories, it is considered to be illegal.
If you or a loved one is seeking help for an addiction, call Choices Recovery at 1-877-467-8431 to get started on your journey to a healthier lifestyle. At Choices Recovery, you will be given the necessary information you need to make decisions for treatment programs, addiction and recovery resources, detoxification, and more. Call Choices Recovery today!