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5 minutes

Drug Classifications: What They Are & The Different Types

Medically Reviewed
Last Medically Reviewed on: June 25, 2022
Drug pills

Updated on

22 Jun, 2022

As numerous types of drugs are on the market, legally and illegally, it is often helpful to have each drug grouped into different classifications for convenience, legal, and medical sake. Furthermore, because each drug has different side effects on each user and varying degrees of addiction potentiality, having drugs categorized under shared chemical similarities from other drugs can help protect the individual from potential life-threatening side effects. As such, drug classifications are necessary to ensure one’s well-being is being protected.

To avoid addiction and serious side effects, one will need to know what drug classifications are, what types of drug classifications there are, and how to get help if one is currently in the grips of a deadly addiction.

What are Drug Classifications, and How Are They Used?

To put it simply, drug classifications are a means to organize drugs into categories. There are many reasons why drugs are grouped under certain classifications in the first place. One of these reasons is to protect the individual using the drug. In this way, having drugs classified by chemical similarities to other drugs can give an individual the knowledge of how the drug they plan on taking can impact them based on the similarities shared with other drugs in the same category.

Furthermore, suppose an individual is addicted to a drug. In that case, it will also help the prescribing doctor steer clear of other drugs chemically similar to the individual’s drug of choice. This also means, generally speaking, that an individual addicted to a certain type of drug may also gravitate towards other drugs in that category. These categorizations also serve the doctor to ensure their patient is prescribed something within a safe category, especially if any co-existing or co-occurring conditions may affect how the drug impacts them.

Typically, drugs are classified by how they impact the mind and body. For example, while some drugs give the user more energy, others are known to bring energy levels down to a more relaxed, calm state. The observations on how the drugs impact the user are more relevant to the way drugs are classified than even the chemical similarities themselves. However, when certain drugs impact the mind and body in related ways, they frequently share chemical similarities.

Types of Drug Classifications

Most countries typically have a legal system in which certain drugs can create consequences for a user that is found in possession or under the influence of that specific drug. Generally speaking, these legal classifications are based on the perceived risk the drug can cause to the user and others and the drug’s medical value. Because the classification of drugs can vary depending on the source, each classification system may differ. However, certain drug classifications are the most common among all threads, and these include:

  • Alcohol: A legal substance in the U.S., it is also the most widely abused. While alcohol is known to create feelings of euphoria and lower inhibitions, it also brings with it devastating impacts to the user, which include: impaired judgment, perception, and reaction times (which can cause severe bodily harm or even fatality, especially if driving under the influence) as well as, long-term damage to the liver.
  • Opioids: These drugs serve as powerful painkillers but are also very susceptible to addiction. Opioids interact with neurotransmitters in the brain and block the signals they send, producing intense pleasure and euphoria. Unfortunately, because they are some of the most addictive substances, they also can be the most fatal. Some common types of opioids include heroinfentanyl, and oxycodone.
  • Benzodiazepines: Also known as benzos, benzodiazepines interact with the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid-A (GABA-A). Because each type of benzo interacts with the neurotransmitter differently, each also impacts the mind and body differently. Therefore, while often prescribed for psychiatric and sleep conditions, benzos are extremely addictive and widely abused. Some common types of benzos include AtivanValium, and Xanax.
  • Cannabinoids: These drugs are chemically similar to the active compound in marijuana, THC. Following close behind alcohol, these drugs are the next most widely abused drugs in the U.S. Although they are considered less addictive than other drug classifications, cannabinoids adversely affect the user’s mental and physical functioning and can seriously damage an individual’s mental and physical health.
  • Barbiturates: Acting on the central nervous system by slowing it down, barbiturates are commonly used to treat psychiatric and sleep disorders, as well as epilepsy and headaches. Barbiturates are even used for anesthesia. Highly addictive, these drugs carry an elevated risk of overdose, causing bodily systems to stop functioning.

What to Do If You Have an Addiction to a Drug in Any of the Classifications

If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, treatment must be sought immediately. As these drug classifications are only meant to help group certain drugs together for medical, legal, or treatment purposes, understanding what category of addiction you gravitate more towards can help to accelerate your recovery process. This is especially true if you feel you are someone that abuses different drug classifications together.

Seeking help for an addiction does not show weakness. On the contrary, it shows incredible strength and power. Acknowledging where the addiction has a stronghold on you will only give you the ability to overcome it. With the help of trained medical professionals and an incredible support team, you can live free from the bondage of the painful and devastating effects of drug addiction. In this way, attending an inpatient drug rehab specializing in holistic, well-rounded treatment plans centered around your individual, unique needs will prove to be the most beneficial approach to long-term recovery. So reach out today and get the help you need and deserve. There is no better time than now to take care of yourself and start building on the future you’ve always dreamed of.


Infinite Recovery has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations for our references. We avoid using tertiary references as our sources. You can learn more about how we source our references by reading our editorial guidelines and medical review policy.

  1. Medline Plus. Heroin. Accessed June 25, 2022.
  2. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Fentanyl | CDC’s Response to the Opioid Overdose Epidemic | CDC. Published June 1, 2022. Accessed June 25, 2022.
  3. Drug Enforcement Administration. Oxycodone. Accessed June 25, 2022.
  4. WebMD. Ativan Oral: Uses, Side Effects, Interactions, Pictures, Warnings & Dosing – WebMD. Accessed June 25, 2022.
  5. Thornton P. Valium: Uses, Dosage, Side Effects, Warnings. Published December 14, 2021. Accessed June 25, 2022.
  6. WebMD. Xanax Oral: Uses, Side Effects, Interactions, Pictures, Warnings & Dosing – WebMD. Accessed June 25, 2022.

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Michael Dadashi

Medical Content Writer

Family owned and operated since 2014, Infinite Recovery was founded by Michael & Ylianna Dadashi to give those struggling with addiction a second chance and help to rebuild their lives. Clean and sober since 2009, Michael is passionate about helping others discover their authentic self and live a life of true freedom and purpose.

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