By: Ava
April 22, 2021

A Guide to the Different Categories of Drugs

Table of Contents

From potency to their effects, all drugs are not created equally.

Here we’ll help you understand some of the various categories of drugs that are most commonly used and abused. All of which have a high potential for cultivating a serious addiction.


These drugs, generally known as “uppers” speed up the body’s system as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) puts it.

Stimulants are actually something many people have a touchpoint with on a daily basis as caffeine falls into this category. Of course, a cup of coffee or two is no cause for concern, it’s the more powerful stimulants that are the issue.

Examples include prescription drugs like:

  • Dexedrine (dextroamphetamine)
  • Adderall (a combo of dextroamphetamine & amphetamine)
  • Ritalin and Concerta (methylphenidate)

When prescribed, they’re used to treat conditions like ADHD, narcolepsy, asthma, obesity and nasal/sinus congestion.

Illegally produced stimulants are:

  • Cocaine
  • Methamphetamine


Think of these as the opposite of stimulants.

Known as “downers”, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), depressants “are medicines that include sedatives, tranquilizers, and hypnotics. These drugs can slow brain activity, making them useful for treating anxiety, panic, acute stress reactions, and sleep disorders”.

Depressants can be broken down further into barbiturates, benzodiazepines and sleep medications.


Most frequently prescribed for relieving anxiety and muscle spasms as well as to prevent seizures. Known drugs include Luminal (phenobarbital) and Nembutal (sodium pentobarbital).


These are generally used to treat generalized anxiety disorder, insomnia, panic disorder and social phobia. Xanax (alprazolam), Ativan (lorazepam) and Klonopin (clonazepam) are among the most widely known.

Sleep Medications

Self-explanatory, these drugs are specifically meant to treat sleep disorders and include Lunesta (eszopiclone), Ambien (zolpidem) and Sonata (zaleplon).

Depressants can be quite addictive and extremely dangerous when mixed with alcohol since both substances depress the central nervous system.


The ongoing epidemic of deaths from opioids makes this perhaps the most well-known of the drug categories. 

A few figures related to that:

In the most straightforward of terms, opioids are used to reduce and relieve moderate to severe pain. 

The most regularly prescribed prescription opioids are:

  • OxyContin (oxycodone)
  • Vicodin (hydrocodone)
  • Morphine
  • Codeine
  • Methadone

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid as opposed to those listed above which are naturally derived, is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and it’s meant to treat the most severe pain, notably in those with late-stage cancer.

In terms of illicit opioids, heroin – which kills nearly 40 people a day – is in that category along with illegally produced fentanyl.


“Hallucinogens are a diverse group of drugs that alter a person’s awareness of their surroundings as well as their own thoughts and feelings,” says NIDA.

They’re broken down into a couple of main subcategories which are classic hallucinogens and dissociative drugs. While they both cause hallucinations, which are defined as profound distortions in a person’s perceptions of reality, dissociative drugs also create a sort of full-on detachment from reality or your own body.

Classic Hallucinogens

This includes drugs like:

  • LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide)
  • Psilocybin or magic mushrooms
  • Peyote
  • DMT

Dissociative Drugs

The most well-known of these are:

  • PCP (phencyclidine)
  • Ketamine
  • DXM (dextromethorphan)
  • Salvia

Given that most hallucinogens have no currently accepted medical use and have a high potential for abuse, many of them fall into the category of Schedule I as per the Controlled Substance Act.

Need Help With Addiction? Reach Out to Multi Concept Recovery Today

If you’re concerned about a loved one’s drug use, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at Multi Concept Recovery to learn more about what you can do to help them.