The Types of Drugs of Abuse

Along mankindís history, several pharmacological agents have been used to induce intoxication, They comprise plant extracts, fermentation products and, more recently, different synthetic substances.

In his book "Phantastica: Narcotic and Stimulating Drugs"(1924), Louis Lewin classified the distinct psychological effects of the different agents. According to him, the agents then known, could be classified as:

Euphoriants Drugs which are distinguished by their capability of diminishing or suspending unpleasant perceptions or emotions, with little effect on conciousness. They induce a state of mental comfort. According to Restak:

    "Thanks to euphoriants, the difficulties and frustrations of the present can be replaced by substitute worlds of the mindís own creation, words in which problems disappear, anxieties are quieted, and desires are sated".

    Lewin included in this group opium and its derivatives as well as cocaine. The last mentioned agent, in Restakís opinion, would today be taken out of this group by most psychopharmacologists, and included in the excitants group.

Phantasticants Also called "drugs of illusion", they induce sensory and perceptive alterations such as hallucinations and illusions (mainly visual). An example is mescaline, extracted from the peyote cactus (scientific name Anhalonium lewinii). In this group we can also include LSD, harmine (present in ayahuasca, intoxicant used by South American Indians and extracted from two plants Ė B. caapi and B. Inebrians), hashish and the anticholinergic alkaloids hyoscyamine, atropine and scopolamine.
Inebriants These drugs produce behavioral excitement as well as perceptual, cognitive, and affective alterations. This group includes ether, chloroform, ethyl chloride, and the drug most used at all places and times, alcohol.
Hypnotics Substances used to induce sleep, like barbiturates and, modernly, some types of benzodiazepines.
Excitants Drugs which produce cerebral excitation and behavioral stimulation without altering consciousness. This group includes caffeine, amphetamines and, according to present standards, cocaine.

Prevalence during lifetime

Alcohol abuse without dependence 9,4%
Alcohol dependence  14,1%
Drug-abuse without dependence 4,4%
Drug dependence  7,5% 

Data from the National Comorbidity Survey (NCS), 1990/1992

Brain & Mind Magazine 3(8), Jan/March 1999
An Initiative by the Center for Biomedical Informatics
Copyright (c) 1998 Universidade Estadual de Campinas, Brasil
Published on 18/Jan/1998