Different Classes Of Drugs

Call Now To Get On The Road To Recovery

Addiction Treatment that
Just Works

Individualized treatment programs delivered in a comfortable, relaxed setting promote healing in your recovery journey.

*As required by law, all communications with Resurgence Behavioral Health are HIPAA Compliant and 100% Confidential

What is the Classification of Drugs?

The classification of drugs is separating drugs into separate categories to organize them. There are multiple ways to classify drugs.

When considering only their chemical makeup, there are six main classifications of drugs:

  • Alcohol

Alcohol is the most widely abused substance in the United States.

7% of the U.S. Population was Dependent on Alcohol

According to research conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, almost 7% of the U.S. population depended on alcohol in 2012.

Examples of commonly consumed types of alcohol include:

  • Beer – Made from fermented malt and hops. The alcohol content of beer can range from 3% to 13% alcohol by volume (ABV).
  • Wine – Made with the fermented juice of grapes. The alcohol by volume content of wine can vary from 5.5% to as high as 20%.
  • Liquor – A stronger beverage made of fermented grains. Examples include whiskey, vodka, gin, and liquor’s alcohol by volume can range from 20% to 95%.


Opiates are either naturally derived from the poppy plant or are made from chemicals designed to create the same effects. Opiates are powerful painkillers and may be prescribed by physicians. They can create feelings of euphoria but can also result in depression and other serious health consequences for frequent users.

Some examples of opiates include:

  • Fentanyl – A synthetic opiate that is 50 to100 times more potent than morphine. Though it is abused as a street drug, it does have clinical uses for extreme pain.
  • Heroin – Derived from morphine, heroin is highly addictive and often used as a street drug for its euphoric effects. It once had clinical uses but is rarely used in any medical contexts today.
  • Oxycodone – Asemi-synthetic opiate prescribed for pain, Oxycodone is highly addictive and can cause severe liver damage or death.


Benzodiazepines, commonly known as “ benzos,” are a type of drug prescribed to treat psychiatric conditions and sleep problems. However, they are highly addictive and may be abused for their sedative effects. Side effects of abuse can include hallucinations, seizures, tremors, and death.

Common examples of benzodiazepines include:

  • Valium – A highly addictive prescription drug used to treat anxiety, sleeplessness, alcohol withdrawal, and muscle spasms.
  • Ativan – Used to treat anxiety. Ativan abuse can result in severe withdrawal, including seizures, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, hallucinations, muscle pain, fast heartbeat, short-term memory loss, and high fever.
  • Xanax – Used to treat panic disorders. Xanax can have fatal side effects if taken with alcohol, opiates, or drugs that slow breathing or cause drowsiness.


Cannabinoids are drugs with similar chemical compounds to THC, the active compound in marijuana. Cannabinoids can create euphoria but can also result in cognitive impairment and physical illness. In 2012, 4.3 million Americans 12 years and older met clinical criteria for dependence or abuse of marijuana.

Some examples of common cannabinoids include:

  • Cannabis – Commonly known as marijuana or “pot,” cannabis is a psychoactive drug used for recreational purposes and also medical usage. While it is not considered to be as addictive as some other substances, cannabis is sometimes combined or laced with other substances that can be very harmful.
  • Hashish – Hashish, nicknamed “hash,” is derived from the dried resin of cannabis plants. It’s more potent than traditional marijuana. Heavy use can result in lung and respiratory issues and problems with memory, judgment, and perception.


Barbiturates were once used to treat anxiety and sleep issues and are still used to treat a wide variety of conditions. However, they are also addictive and can present a high overdose risk, given their powerful sedative effects.

Examples of barbiturates include:

  • Luminal – Used to help control certain kinds of seizures, treat anxiety and sleep problems. Luminal is addictive, and efforts to quit Luminal suddenly can result in withdrawal.
  • Amytal – A sedative, anti-anxiety medication, and pre-anesthetic before surgery. Amytal has also seen use as a “truth serum” for its extreme sedative effects.
  • Pentobarbital – A fast-acting barbiturate. Pentobarbital can, in high doses, cause death by respiratory arrest and has been used for executions of convicted criminals.


Hallucinogens can dramatically alter mental processes, leading to significant distortions of reality, including hallucinations, an altered sense of time, and mixed sensory experiences, such as believing one can hear colors or having an “out of body experience.” The addiction risk for hallucinogens is low, but lasting psychological and cognitive effects can occur if taken in large quantities.

Some examples of hallucinogens include:

  • LSD – Nicknamed “acid,” LSD is a popular hallucinogen used recreationally. While addiction is very rare, adverse reactions are possible, such as anxiety and paranoia, as well as distressing flashbacks long after use.
  • Psilocybin – A naturally occurring psychedelic drug produced by over 200 species of mushrooms. Adverse reactions, including panic attacks and nausea.
  • DMT – This drug produces effects similar to LSD and psilocybin, as users report out of body experiences, communicating with other worlds and religious experiences. Some users also report unsettling aftereffects, like anxiety.

It is important to note that there are other systems of grouping these substances.

DEA Drug Schedules

For example, the DEA classifies drugs into “Schedules” based on each drug’s acceptable medical use and abuse or dependency potential. In this system, Schedule I drugs – including heroin, LSD, and marijuana – have a high potential for abuse and little to no medical use. Conversely, Schedule V drugs – including cough medications with very small amounts of narcotics and antidiarrheal medications – represent the lowest likelihood for abuse.

Classification of Drugs by Effect

Many people also classify drugs based on the effects they create. For example, some drugs may create manic, euphoric states, while others result in heavy sedation. With this in mind, drugs may be classified by effect as follows:

  • Depressants – such as alcohol and opiates.
  • Stimulants – such as cocaine and methamphetamine.
  • Hallucinogens – such as LSD and PCP.
  • Inhalants – such as paint thinner, glue, or markers.

One challenge with this kind of classification of drugs is that each individual reacts to a drug differently.

Physical and Psychological Effects of a Drug

The physical and psychological effects of a drug can manifest along a spectrum. For example, alcohol may create feelings of happiness, confidence, and decreased inhibition. However, some users may experience anger, anxiety, or depression with alcohol consumption. Additionally, even hallucinogenic drugs, which are often associated with euphoric states, can result in traumatic flashbacks and “bad trips,” in which users experience frightening visions.

Psychiatric Classification of Drugs

Psychiatric drugs used to treat mental health issues tend to fall into eight broad categories:

  • Mood stabilizers – for schizophrenia and bipolar disorders
  • Antidepressant medications – for depression and chronic anxiety
  • Depressants – for insomnia
  • Antipsychotic medications – for symptoms like hallucinations and varied delusions
  • Stimulants – for narcolepsy
  • Cognitive enhancers – for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia
  • Anxiolytics – for sedatives for short-term anxiety
  • Substance abuse medications – for substance withdrawal

It is important to remember that drugs prescribed to alleviate mental health issues can worsen or create mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, or hallucinations if abused.

Classification of Drugs and Treatment

Regardless of the classification of the drug involved, addiction is serious and can have life-altering consequences. Often substance abuse is complicated, involving multiple drugs and underlying emotional needs. Treatment programs can help address multiple barriers to recovery simultaneously, helping to increase the likelihood of long-term success.

Treatment programs frequently offer a variety of treatment options, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), inpatient treatment, partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient treatment, outpatient treatment, 12-step support groups, and medical detoxification.

Resurgence Behavioral Health

You are not alone. Resurgence Behavioral Health is here to empower you to achieve your recovery goals. With the support of our addiction specialists, medical professionals, certified addiction counselors, and licensed therapists, you will experience the holistic treatment environment you need to break the cycle of addiction.

And with locations in Costa Mesa, Fountain Valley, Huntington Beach, and Fullerton Hills, Resurgence Behavioral Health serves those in need of personalized recovery programs throughout Orange County and beyond.

And our compassionate care is affordable because everyone deserves to be free of addiction. We accept most PPO insurances and offer payment plans for cash patients. Resurgence is ready to help. And we are just a call away.

Addiction Treatment that
Just Works

Individualized treatment programs delivered in a comfortable, relaxed setting promote healing in your recovery journey.