Designer Drugs Addiction and Treatment

In the 2014 Global Drugs Survey, about 20 percent of respondents from the United States admitted to using some kind of synthetic drug in the year prior. That means about one person in five in this country has dabbled in a drug that was made in a laboratory.

Drugs like this, which researchers call “designer drugs,” have been specifically developed to produce a high or a euphoric state in people who take them. These are drugs made to make people feel differently about themselves and the world around them. In some cases, these are drugs that can cause huge problems in terms of abuse and addiction.

What Is a Designer Drug?

Blue Ecstasy pill isolated on whiteThe U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) recognizes seven different types of designer drugs:

  • Cannabinoids
  • Phenethylamines
  • Phencyclidines or arylcyclohexamines
  • Tryptamines
  • Piperazines
  • Pipradrols
  • N-ring systems

These drug names don’t really roll off the tongue. They come from, in most cases, the chemical structure of the substance itself. So the names might be more familiar to a chemistry student than they might be to a drug user.

These drugs are developed in order to mimic the effects of drugs that are often notorious and banned. Most of them work a lot like cocaine or other stimulants, but one type of designer drug, cannabinoids, does something different. This drug mimics the action of marijuana, and it’s the most popular of the designer drugs, the DEA says.

For some users, these drugs are appealing simply because their legal status is a little unclear. Chemists have worked hard to develop drugs that don’t contain the hallmarks and attributes that drug enforcement communities look for. So that means some drug users can get high with these substances without facing arrest or some other form of consequence.

This is particularly appealing, according to sources quoted by The Post Game, to amateur athletes. These young people could be removed from sports teams if they fail a drug test, but since some drug tests may not pick up synthetic drugs, this use can go undetected.

A second class of users takes designer drugs as part of a multi-drug, pro-drug lifestyle. According to research highlighted in New York Magazine, these drug users scour the Internet for new drugs to try, and they document their experiences to inform others. They may feel that they’re connoisseurs of drugs with enhanced palettes and a boosted sense of what a drug should and should not do. They may take pride in their ability to seek out and try a new drug before anyone else has done so.

To this class of users, designer drugs are appealing simply because they confer status. Unlike other drugs that anyone might take and enjoy, these drugs are unusual and unique, available to only a select few.

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Are They Addictive?

It’s easy to understand why people might be tempted to abuse these drugs. But are they addictive? It’s hard to know.


Since designer drugs are made in laboratories by people who aren’t subject to quality control standards or governmental oversight, the drugs are often radically different from one batch to another.


One manufacturer might make the drug a certain way, while another might do things differently. Should regulators ban an ingredient or an element, all the manufacturers might shift things again in order to evade prosecution. That makes performing in-depth studies about the effects of these drugs incredibly difficult. Researchers just don’t know what these things are, much less how they work.
But some research suggests that these drugs at least have the potential to spark addictive changes in the human brain. The cannabinoid drugs, for example, contain elements that are known to work on brain receptors triggered by marijuana, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. This means these drugs could be just as addictive as marijuana is, although more research must be done in order to verify that.

Getting Help

It’s vital for people who use designer drugs to stop doing so. Each hit they take comes with severe risks that are difficult, if not impossible, to predict. The sooner they stop taking these substances into their bodies, the healthier they might be.

It can be difficult to persuade someone with a designer drug addiction to get care. After all, some of these people think of themselves as drug warriors and bringers of truth. To them, drugs are a vital part of life and a source of their creativity and contributions to the world. They may not see the harm in their drug use, nor the benefit of sobriety.

An intervention may help. This conversation is designed to break down the walls of denial that keep people experimenting with drugs when they should be focused on getting better. A family holding a designer drug intervention might focus on the changes they’ve seen due to drug use or the news reports they’ve read about designer drug danger. They might point out how treatment works and why it helps. They might lay out consequences that could befall a person who doesn’t get treatment.

These conversations can be remarkably effective. In a study about them, published in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, researchers found that people who got a Johnson intervention were more likely to enter treatment than people who did not, and those who got an intervention were more likely to stay in treatment, too.
That treatment retention is vital, as people with a designer drug addiction need to pick up a variety of skills involving impulse control, relapse prevention, communication, and healthy living. Therapists can provide a number of different therapy types to reach these people, including cognitive behavioral therapy and family therapy, but those with addictions need to walk through the door first.

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