Substance Abuse Interventions

Illicit Drugs and Pharmaceutical Drugs

A drug is any substance that can be used to bring about physical, physiological, or psychological changes in the body. Both illicit drugs and pharmaceutical drugs can be misused with abuse of pharmaceutical drugs on the rise. Drugs are classified in three major categories as follows:

  • Depressants slow the functions of the central nervous system and affect concentration and coordination. Examples of depressants include legal substances such as alcohol or illicit ones such as cannabis, opioids (e.g., heroin, methadone) and GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate).
  • Stimulants speed up bodily functions and can induce euphoria, energy, and alertness. Legal stimulants include caffeine, nicotine, and ephedrine while illicit stimulants include amphetamines such as ‘ice’ or ‘speed’, cocaine and MDMA (methylenedioxymethamphetamine or ‘ecstasy’).
  • Hallucinogens distort perceptions of reality, the consequences of which can be difficult to predict. Hallucinogens include cannabis, ketamine, LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), ‘magic mushrooms’ (psilocybin), mescaline (peyote) and PCP (phencyclidine).

While there are varying degrees of use of illicit drugs and pharmaceutical drugs, problematic use arises when the harms associated with use begin to impact upon a user’s life. If regular drug use is beginning to place you, or someone you love, at risk of being at odds with the law; or if continued use is beginning to affect your general health, your moods, the quality of your work and your relationships with others, then quality of life will diminish, and professional treatment and support may be necessary.


A wide range of treatment options are available ranging from residential rehabilitation, hospital programs, counselling to self-help groups such as twelve step fellowships like Narcotics Anonymous. Treatment is offered in both public and private facilities. Where mental health problems are severe, involuntary admissions might have to be organised.