What Are the 6 Types of Drug Dependence?

Medically Reviewed on 3/25/2022

What is drug abuse?

Drug dependence results from drug abuse. The 6 types of drug dependence are alcohol, opioid, hypnotics/sedative, cannabis, hallucinogen, and cocaine dependence.
Drug dependence results from drug abuse. The 6 types of drug dependence are alcohol, opioid, hypnotics/sedative, cannabis, hallucinogen, and cocaine dependence.

At the center of many social and mental health disorders, we often find coping mechanisms that involve the use of drugs. Disorders that involve drug use are medically described as abuse and dependence.

Addiction and substance abuse are defined as a pattern of distress or problematic situations created by consistently using drugs or alcohol. Addiction and abuse may affect work, daily functions, or relationships. Substance abuse is a medical brain disorder associated with both illegal vs. legal substances. Commonly abused illegal substances include cocaine, heroin, and marijuana. Legal substances include prescription drugs, alcohol, and nicotine.

What is drug dependence?

Dependence on a substance is a condition that occurs after significant problems related to abuse have developed. With this medical condition, a person must constantly increase the amount of a drug or substance to get the desired effect. If someone with a drug dependence tries to decrease use, withdrawal symptoms often occur. When there is a dependence on a substance, there is continued use despite significant social, physical, or psychological problems.  

How are dependencies classified?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth and Fifth Edition — DSM-IV and DSM-V — provide criteria for classifying and diagnosing disorders. DSM-IV and V define substance abuse disorders as conditions related to drug /substance use. The dependence classification has two main categories — physical and psychological dependency.

Physical dependency means the body has developed a physical reliance on a substance because it alters the body's natural state. Alcohol and nicotine commonly cause physical dependence. Bentyl addiction is also a cause of physical dependency — the body is dependent on the drug to fight symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.  

Psychological dependency affects mental and emotional well-being. Cocaine often causes the euphoria associated with psychological dependence.

What are the 6 different types of drug dependence?

Within the above categories are six types of drug dependency: alcohol dependence, opioid dependence, hypnotics/sedative dependence, cannabis dependence, hallucinogen dependence, and cocaine abuse. Some authorities may recognize seven categories of drug dependence.

Alcohol dependence:  Alcohol is a very commonly abused substance worldwide. It affects several of the basic functions of the body. Alcohol can create euphoric symptoms. It can also lower inhibitions. Dependence can occur due to the use of alcohol as a coping mechanism and can magnify feelings of sadness and anger. Alcohol dependence affects perception, judgment, and response reactions. Liquor, wine, and beer are types of abused alcoholic substances.

Opioid dependence: Heroin and oxycodone are commonly abused opiates or opioids. Opioids are created from opium or a synthetic version of the drug. Opioids interact with brain neurotransmitters and block signals that are being sent. This is why opioids are such strong painkillers. They create feelings of euphoria that make them highly addictive. Opioid dependence can be lethal.

Hypnotics/sedative dependence: This category includes both barbiturates and benzodiazepines. Barbiturates slow down the function of the central nervous system. Historically, barbiturates were used for sleep disorders and psychiatric conditions; they are still used today for anesthesia and to treat several conditions. Examples include Amytal, pentobarbital, and Luminal. Benzodiazepines — or benzos — interact with the brain neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid-A (GABA-A). Though these drugs interact with the brain differently than barbiturates, they too are prescribed for numerous sleep and psychiatric conditions. Benzos include Xanex, Ativan, and Valium. Both barbiturates and benzodiazepines are highly addictive, and dependence can lead to a high risk of overdose. 

Cannabis dependence: Cannabinoids are drugs with a similar chemical compound to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in marijuana. These compounds can cause euphoria while negatively affecting physical and mental functioning. Cannabinoids are the second most commonly abused substances worldwide. Cannabis and hashish are cannabinoids and have a lower risk of causing dependence compared to other drugs.

Hallucinogen dependence: LSD and mushrooms are hallucinogens. Hallucinogens are a type of drug that changes perceptions and the thinking process of those who take them. This leads to distortion of reality. Hallucinogens affect perceptions differently than other drugs. These types of drugs sometimes raise awareness and may allow users to experience new types of consciousness. This includes seeing things that aren’t there, perceived time alteration, or a sense of being outside your body. Though hallucinogens have a low risk of addiction or overdose, the mental effects can be long-lasting or permanent if used in a large quantity.

Cocaine abuse: Cocaine is a stimulant drug that affects the brain directly. It can be taken orally, by inhalation, intranasally, or intravenously. Cocaine affects the brain region known as the ventral tegmental area (VTA). Nerves from this area connect to the brain’s pleasure centers. Continued use and abuse of cocaine can often lead to tolerance. Higher doses are needed more frequently, and dependence develops as the brain needs more to get the same euphoria as initially received. Cocaine is very addictive and can easily lead to a fatal overdose.


Prescription Drug Abuse: Addiction, Health Risks, and Treatments See Slideshow

What causes dependence, and what can be done?

Numerous social and cultural factors can lead to dependence. Socially, public law dictates what type of drug is legal or illegal. What is considered normal and what is believed to be dependence or abuse can be affected by multiple factors. These include environmental stressors, personality, genetic makeup, social pressure, and mental illness

There are many programs for people who suffer from abuse and dependence. This includes both inpatient and outpatient options. Determination of the best type of treatment depends on the abused substance. Long-term options, follow-ups, and detox if needed are essential aspects of successful treatment. The long-term management may include meetings, support systems, and medical follow-ups. A doctor may recommend social psychotherapy to address the initiating factor that started and continued the dependence on the abused drug. If the initiating factors are not addressed, relapse may be a strong possibility. 

Medically Reviewed on 3/25/2022

John Hopkins Medicine: "Substance Abuse / Chemical Dependency."

Journal of Young Pharmacists: "A rare case of dicyclomine abuse."

National Institute on Drug Abuse: "Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition). Is there a difference between physical dependence and addiction?"

NYCHealth.gov: "Cocaine Abuse and Addiction."

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: "Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs," "Appendix A – Results from the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables, SAMHSA, CBHSQ," "Impact of the DSM-IV to DSM-5 Changes on the National Survey on Drug Use and Health."