What Constitutes Drug Abuse?

Drug abuse is not always straightforward. It is not always about illicit drugs like heroin or cocaine. What are the ways drugs are abused? Drug abuse is often more about the method or the approach than the drug itself. Many people are surprised to find how frequently prescription drugs are abused, too.  

For example, prescription drugs like antidepressants that are given by doctors to improve mental health can also be addictive. They have a high potential for abuse due to their powerful side effects and chemical structures. 

Both prescription and illicit drugs are abused every day. When it comes to prescription drugs, what matters more is how and why you take them. But when considering illicit drugs that have no approved medical uses in the United States, any use constitutes abuse. 

Methods and Ways Drugs Are Abused

Methods of Drug Abuse

Whether illicit or prescription, there are many methods of drug ingestion. Some are more common than others. The most common methods of drug administration include: 

  • Injecting
  • Smoking
  • Snorting
  • Swallowing 

Now, let’s talk about which methods are the safest and which carry the most risk. 

Taking Drugs Orally

Swallowing pills, tablets, capsules, or other forms of medication is the most common way to take drugs. When you swallow something, it must pass through the stomach before absorbing into the bloodstream. 

This gives your body time to gradually absorb and disburse the ingested drug rather than flooding the bloodstream with it right away. For this reason, oral ingestion of drugs is generally considered to be the safest method. 

Requiring a pass through the stomach before entering the blood also gives your body the chance to rid itself of substances that it does not agree with. The digestive system will reject substances that do not belong or substances that belong in smaller quantities. 

This reflex is the reason why we vomit when we drink too much alcohol or eat spoiled foods. As a defense mechanism, purging helps keep the body safe and avoid poisoning the blood. As such, swallowing drugs also decreases the likelihood of an overdose. 

Although, that does not mean that it is not possible. With a high enough dose or a history of certain health complications, swallowing drugs can still be problematic or even fatal. While it is the safest method of ingestion, it is still important to only take drugs orally when they are prescribed and at the times and quantities that they are prescribed. 

Why Smoking Drugs is More Dangerous Than Swallowing Them

Drugs enter the body’s system faster than they are smoked rather than swallowed. Instead of traveling through the digestive system, they enter the lungs and quickly move into the bloodstream. This makes it a more dangerous method of drug ingestion than swallowing. 

Smoking also carries the additional risks of certain cancers, including lung cancer, throat cancer, and cancer of the mouth. Some other common health conditions associated with smoking include: 

  • Heart disease
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Chronic bronchitis 
  • Emphysema 
  • Stroke 

Not all drugs are smoked. Some of the most commonly smoked drugs are marijuana, crack cocaine, heroin, and opium. Smoking either prescription or illicit drugs can cause addiction, long-term or permanent damage to the lungs and various other health complications. 

Snorting Drugs to Get High Faster

When you begin to develop a dependence on drugs, you may feel the need to push for more frequent or intense highs. Many drug abusers start by taking prescription drugs through the appropriate methods. 

Some studies found that nearly 80% of heroin users reported using prescription opioids first. Powerful prescription drugs like opioids and benzodiazepines are often gateways to more dangerous drugs and methods. Therefore, it is critical to follow prescriptions closely. 

Over time, prescription drug users may become addicted and desperate for more. They take higher or more frequent doses, mix them with alcohol or other substances, or find ways to intensify their highs, boost their moods, or relieve their pain. 

Snorting drugs is one way that drug abusers try to achieve these goals. Heroin, amphetamines, cocaine, and ecstasy are some of the most frequently snorted drugs. When you snort a substance, it enters your bloodstream through the mucus membranes in your nasal passages.

Through this method, side effects typically begin to appear around 15 minutes after ingestion. Nasal ingestion is a method that is only recommended for certain prescription or over-the-counter medications, such as allergy sprays. 

Snorting drugs can deteriorate the nasal cavity lining, leading to significant and permanent nasal damage. It can cause swelling of the nasal lining, lung infections, nasal blockages, and compromised respiratory tracts. 

Another danger of snorting drugs is that powdered drugs are often tainted with other substances. Impurities like talcum powder and caffeine may be mixed with certain drugs without the user’s knowledge. 

This is a common practice among drug producers and dealers looking to increase their profits. And sharing tools to snort drugs with can cause the transfer of additional conditions like HIV and hepatitis C. 

Why Injecting Drugs is the Most Dangerous Ingestion Method

Of all the ways people take drugs, this is the fastest method for producing a drug high. Injecting drugs puts them directly into your bloodstream. The effects are almost immediate. Because it enters your bloodstream so quickly, it also moves to the brain quickly. 

This rerouting allows the drug to avoid your body’s natural defense mechanisms. Injecting drugs causes many preventable drug overdose deaths. It may also cause infections at the injection site, HIV or hepatitis from shared needles, collapsed veins, or arterial damage. 

Drugs should not be injected unless recommended by a medical professional. Certain prescription medications may involve injections. But these should either be administered by a doctor or nurse or under the guidance of one. 

What Other Ways Are There to Abuse Drugs?

What Other Ways Are There to Abuse Drugs

Outside of ingestion methods, two of the most common ways to abuse drugs are to take more than you are supposed to or take them more frequently than you are supposed to. These two methods are particularly common with prescription drugs. 

When a medical professional prescribes medication after an accident, for chronic pains, or to reduce the symptoms of a mental health disorder, their guidelines should be carefully adhered to. They will tell you how and how often to take your medication to achieve the best results. 

They will tell you what can be taken with this medication and what cannot. Despite popular belief to the contrary, prescription drugs can be highly addictive and dangerous. Following professional medical guidance can help mitigate these risks. Avoiding illicit drug use can do the same. 

Finding Treatment for Drug Abuse and Addiction

It is easy to give in and consider the outcome bleak, but hope is not lost. Addiction is a treatable disease. And recognizing that you have a problem is truly the first step toward recovery. The team at Pathfinders Recovery is uniquely qualified to offer a compassionate and well-rounded approach to addiction recovery

We will work with you to determine the best treatment plan based on your unique addiction and needs. Everyone is different. Our one-on-one approach ensures that you get the type and level of care best for you, not what might be best for someone else. 

Call our addiction counselors today at 877-224-0761. Someone is available 24/7 to provide insurance verification, guidance on choosing the right program, and answers to common questions. Today is a good day to get the help you need and deserve.


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