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Psychoactive Drugs: Physical Effects and Withdrawal Symptoms List

Updated on December 15, 2011

Psychoactive Drugs & Substance Abuse

Any substance that alters mood, thought, or perception is known in psychology as a psychoactive drug. More specifically, a drug is called a controlled substance when approved for medical use through prescription, or illicit if illegal. While many psychoactive drugs have pleasurable-- if not always beneficial --effects, substance abuse may develop if an individual continues to use after several incidents in which use has negatively affected his or her work, education, or social relationships.

Substance abuse occurs for two reasons: physical and psychological dependence. Physical dependence results from the body's defense mechanism against poisoning by developing drug tolerance over time, requiring higher doses of the substance to maintain the same effects. In addition, the neurological changes incurred as a result of drug use encourage the brain to cease production of important neurotransmitters necessary for functioning. Withdrawal symptoms are often crippling, as the body becomes unable to operate without the substance.

Equally as powerful can be the grips of psychological dependence. Cravings for the drug's pleasurable effects can be irresistible, and in combination with the physical discomfort from ceasing use, make recovery a painful prospect.

Classes of Psychoactive Drugs

Psychoactive drugs can be classed into three main categories: stimulants, depressants, and hallucinogens. The effects and withdrawal symptoms of popular drugs from each category can be found below.


Stimulants, also known as "uppers," speed up activity in the central nervous system, suppress appetite, and generally make a person more alert and energetic. They increase pulse rate, blood pressure, and respiration rate, and reduce blood flow to the brain. In high doses, stimulants make people nervous, jittery, and prevent sleep.


  • Effects- wakefulness, alertness, increased metabolism, slows reaction time
  • Withdrawal- headache, depression, fatigue


  • Effects- calm, alertness, lowered appetite, increased pulse rate and metabolism
  • Withdrawal- irritability, anxiety, restlessness, increased appetite


  • Effects- increased metabolism, alertness, elevated mood, suppressed appetite
  • Withdrawal- fatigue, increased appetite, depression, excessive sleep, irritability, anxiety


  • Effects- euphoria, energy boost, excitement, suppressed appetite
  • Withdrawal- depression, fatigue, increased appetite, excessive sleep, irritability


Depressants, or "downers," decrease activity in the central nervous system, slow down body functions, and reduce sensitivity. The cumulative sedative effects make taking combinations of depressants extremely dangerous.


  • Effects- lowers inhibitions, slows reaction time, impairs motor function, and perceptual ability
  • Withdrawal- tremors, nausea, sweating, depression, irritability, sometimes hallucinations


  • Effects- sleepiness, calm, sedation, decreased muscle tension, impaired coordination and reflexes
  • Withdrawal- insomnia, anxiety, sometimes seizures, lung collapse or heart attack


  • Effects- lowered anxiety, calm, sedation, decreased muscle tension
  • Withdrawal- restlessness, anxiety, irritability, muscle cramps, insomnia


  • Effects- pain relief, constipation
  • Withdrawal- nausea, diarrhea, cramps, insomnia


Hallucinogens, or "psychedelics," are drugs that distort perceptions of time and space, alter mood, and cause sensations not based in external reality. Hallucinogens often magnify whatever mood the user was in prior to use.


  • Effects- euphoria, relaxation, increased appetite, reduced ability to store new memories
  • Withdrawal- anxiety, insomnia, decreased appetite, hyperactivity


  • Effects- excitement, euphoria, hallucinations, experiences perceived as spiritual or profound
  • Withdrawal- confusion, disorientation, anxiety

Ecstasy (MDMA)

  • Effects- euphoria, lowered inhibitions, dehydration, sometimes dizziness, eye twitching
  • Withdrawal- depression, fatigue, sometimes suicidality


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    • PB_Smith profile image


      2 years ago from Southern California

      What a ridiculous load of drivel. Looks like it was copied from one of those pamphlets we got in school in the early '70's.

      If you are going to publish information about drugs at least do some actual research and provide accurate and up to date FACTS.

      Don't make me subject you to the treatment Hal Licino received.

    • profile image

      bec bec 

      6 years ago

      hii im one of thoes smokers and cigrates and iv tried so many times too stop smoke both but iv been giving up cigrates but than iv turned and become very heavey on the weed what should i do iv tried taklking to people but it just hasn't helped much and i really want too give up both of them what shoulld i do???? xx

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      With weed, it's just mind.over matter

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I've never had the withdrawal symptoms of LSD. In fact it seems to be speeding up my metabolism after starting to use it once per week. (I was 100kg now 92.5kg after a few weeks, yay!)

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      help me to choose my topic for psychology term paper ..tons of thx

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Smoking causes sinusitis :(

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      If you even think for a second that Marijuana belongs in the same category as other drugs you are out of your mind. Marijuana is eventually going to be legal in all 50 States, and should be.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I am trying to quit marijuana cold turkey. I quit before when I was smoking every day and I began to get irritable. I started again after a few weeks and now I am trying to stop but I get very irritable all the time. What can I do to stop this irritability?

    • radiokoala profile image


      8 years ago from Grodno, Belarus

      The question is no more actual, I found out this info :]

    • radiokoala profile image


      8 years ago from Grodno, Belarus

      Are you certain marijuana causes insomnia? After smoking it one falls asleep easier. (The same goes to beer and alcohol overall.)

    • justom profile image


      8 years ago from 41042

      My, my, my, while this hub may be construed as a great clinical look at drugs and the effects it seems like just another scare tactic to me. I grew up in the 60's and while I won't get into specifics I have found that everyone has different levels on what has a lasting effect and what is just an experiment in finding out what this life is all about. Addiction is about personality and is destructive in whatever form it takes. If we keep trying to scare folks away from drugs there's no hope of anyone getting it. The story of LSD comes to mind when it was said that if you take it you'll think you can fly and jump off a building. While this did happen on 1 occasion it wasn't the norm. Keep trying, I'm sure you mean well. Peace!! Tom

    • profile image


      8 years ago


    • profile image


      8 years ago

      help me to choose my topic for psychology term paper ..tons of thx

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I'm a weed addict and my girlfriend told me to quit or she would leave me but as soon as I quit after 3 or 4 days I begin to get very depressed and suffer from hallucinations. I don't consider myself a problem user although I smoke about 4 small joints over the course of a day using only a small sprinkling but I feel my life is so much worse off without weed. Weed motivates me, makes me feel focused and cleverer with a much needed self-esteem boost. I don't need it and I've quit before out of curiosity for a couple of months several times and once for a couple of years because I feel that the stigma surrounding weed makes me feel rejected and victimised by some peers and colleagues.

    • Jenna Pope profile image

      Jenna Pope 

      9 years ago from Southern California

      Really informative article. I'm an alcohol and drug counselor. Good overview. JP

    • solarcaptain profile image

      mike king 

      9 years ago from california

      very nice piece of work. My doctor is half kidding about prescribing mj. I have been on prescription drugs for over 20 years. One of my kidneys is half the size of the other and my blood chemicals are all messed up. The doctor is scrambling to find a combination of drugs that won't impact negativelly on my kidneys and liver. They are delaying a necessary surgery until all is straightened out. The moral:

      Don't use any drugs unless absolutely necessary.

      Your blogs are amazing. I admire your work and see you going far in life.

    • sequoiablessed profile image


      9 years ago from USA

      Very well written article Maddie. It is concise and to the point, very informative. I can tell you are very well informed and I hope the message gets through. Drugs are dangerous no matter where you get them from and are to be used with great caution and forethought.

    • earnestshub profile image


      9 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      Hi Mighty mom, that was funny! I have not read Margolis for twenty years, but if I remember correctly By fifth rate I took him to mean that it has a very bad effect and there are many other depressants that are less dangerous to use with less likelihood of death.Your comment is spot on and seizures should be on the list.

    • Mighty Mom profile image

      Susan Reid 

      9 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      Not sure what Margolis means by a "dangerous fifth rate depressant" (is that supposed to be some kind of pun -- get it, "fifth"??). Alcohol kills more people than all the other drugs combined. There is nothing "fifth rate" about it. But it definitely is dangerous. In fact, you should add "seizures" to the list of potential withdrawal symptoms from alcohol, too.

      Great hub. I hope a lot of parents read it! MM

    • earnestshub profile image


      9 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      Hi Maddie. Margolis in his comprehensive book on drugs calls alcohol a dangerous fifth rate depressant yet it is not only legal but heavily promoted. The most dangerous drugs are legal prescription drugs. The number of deaths far exceed those for illegal drugs. All drugs are potentially dangerous and some of the warnings on prescription drugs are terrifying! So called side effects like death are common. If the FDA and the US Government continue to demonize recreational drugs, kids will keep taking them, the mafia will keep selling them, and no tests can be viable in such cases as the contents could be anything these soul-less bastards have a-plenty at the time. Although the Government goes on about drugs such as mda mmda GHB etc, and tells direct lies about the dangers of some drugs these drugs are nearly always something else. I applaud you for writing this hub and hope it is read by those who use drugs casually and without thought.

      By the way government info on marijuana are a joke. These days your average ten year old knows enough to see through the fear campaigns, and the way stats are gathered do not take in to consideration those who self prescribe because they are pre-suffering the problems that some drugs are supposed to have caused.I have used MJ daily for 35 years now for chronic CNS pain and nothing comes near it for safety. If I had taken prescription drugs for pain I would have died twenty years ago from renal failure according to my doctor. All my doctors have been totally supportive of my use and I live a normal full life that would be unbearable without it.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Drugs are illegal

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      First advice is to never take any "Pscho drugs" as I call them. The only results the have is bad ones.

    • Maddie Ruud profile imageAUTHOR

      Maddie Ruud 

      11 years ago from Oakland, CA


      Zoloft is an SSRI, or Selective Seratonin Reuptake Inhibitor. Seratonin is a neurotransmitter that functions in the relaying of messages between nerve cells in the brain, and is involved primarily in sleep, mood, and appetite. Hence, when there is a lack of seratonin in the brain, the symptoms of depression: excessive sleep or insomnia, appetite changes, and sadness. SSRIs keep the nerve cells from reabsorbing the seratonin they have released, meaning that more of it is available to pass on its message to the next neuron... thus (hopefully) correcting the lack of feelings of well-being and calm that a normally functioning brain experiences.

    • barryrutherford profile image

      Barry Rutherford 

      11 years ago from Queensland Australia

      thanks maddie...I gues their regarded as uppers..althought they are called/do something else. If your read the script or mims you needs to be a shrink on brain surgeon to understand what they are doing

    • Maddie Ruud profile imageAUTHOR

      Maddie Ruud 

      11 years ago from Oakland, CA


      Any antidepressant medication should be tapered off under supervision of your doctor and/or psychiatrist. If you stop taking Zoloft all at once, withdrawal symptoms can range from lightheadedness, insomnia, and tremors, to anxiety, muscle pains, and nausea. These symptoms usually last 1-2 weeks, but can continue anywhere up to a month. You should always consult your doctor before you stop taking your medication.

      Good luck,


    • barryrutherford profile image

      Barry Rutherford 

      11 years ago from Queensland Australia

      do you have any info on ZOLOFT 50ml

    • Lela Davidson profile image

      Lela Davidson 

      11 years ago from Bentonville, Arkansas

      Very comprehensive and informative! Thanks, Maddie!


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