Identifying Drug Class

Laguna Shores Recovery emphasizes education paired with recovery from drugs and alcohol. Knowing the short and long-term effects of drugs and the classes they fall into helps our clients understand how drug or alcohol abuse affects their lives. This guide will help those suffering from substance use disorder (SUD) and their families identify the government-assigned drug class and learn about some of the most abused substances.

Recovery from addiction to drugs or alcohol should be supervised by medical professionals in a residential treatment facility like Laguna Shores Recovery. Here, we educate our clients and provide support and around-the-clock medical care because our mission is to help those recovering from the lasting effects of addiction.

What Are Drug Classes?

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has classified drugs into five different categories or schedules to help medical professionals, law enforcement, and the general public understand the risks of using, abusing, and having an addiction to dangerous substances. There are thousands of drugs belonging to different classes that have many different uses and effects. Even drugs that are not scheduled as controlled substances by the DEA can cause addiction — such as Prozac — but some drugs are more likely to do so than others.

The five schedules of drug classification are:

  • Schedule I: Drugs that are not approved by the DEA for medical use and have a high potential for abuse.
  • Schedule II: Drugs or substances that have a high potential of abuse and can cause severe psychological or physical dependence.
  • Schedule III: Substances with a low potential for physical and psychological dependence.
  • Schedule IV: Drugs with a lower potential for abuse and a low risk for physical dependence.
  • Schedule V: Substances with a lower potential for abuse than Schedule IV.

Those classified with a higher potential for abuse usually have intoxicating effects that are experienced almost immediately after consumption.

Drug Classes Dissected


Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that interferes with the brain’s communication pathways and impacts mood and behavior. Being under the influence of alcohol causes feelings of euphoria, slurred speech, blurred vision, and a loss of coordination. Long-term alcohol consumption causes the most damage to the liver and gastrointestinal tract. Consuming high levels of alcohol in a short period, or binge drinking, can cause alcohol poisoning and even result in death. Excessive alcohol use is responsible for 95,000 deaths in the United States each year.

Forms of alcohol include:

  • Beer
  • Wine
  • Liquor (vodka, whiskey, tequila, rum, etc.)
  • Miscellaneous substances not meant for consumption (methanol, isopropyl alcohol, and ethylene glycol)

Alcohol is not on the DEA’s schedule of controlled substances, but it is illegal for anyone under the age of 21 in the U.S. to purchase or consume it. Alcohol abuse can also cause physical dependence that causes severe and even deadly withdrawal symptoms upon stopping use.

Cannabinoids Class

The cannabinoid drug class refers to any substance that is derived from the marijuana plant. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the cannabinoid in marijuana responsible for causing intoxicating effects such as euphoria, relaxation, increased appetite, slowed reaction time, and impaired balance. Cannabinoids can be consumed by smoking, eating, or inhaling the vapor and are considered a Schedule I controlled substance by the DEA.

Marijuana comes in these forms:

  • Plant form: Refers to the flowers that can be extracted from the plant and smoke
  • Hashish: Refers to the extract in the forms of oil, wax, shatter, or rosin

Opioid Drug Class

The opioid drug class classifies drugs that are naturally derived from the poppy plant and synthetic versions of opium-based drugs called opiates. These drugs are depressants that interact with the opioid centers in the brain, causing euphoria, drowsiness, dizziness, headache, slowed breathing, and fits of unconsciousness, also called nodding out. These drugs are highly addictive and can cause severe psychological and physical dependence.

Overdoses can be fatal, and withdrawal symptoms are incredibly uncomfortable and cause severe dehydration.

Common drugs in the opioid class include:

  • Opium
  • Heroin (Schedule I)
  • Morphine
  • Codeine
  • Fentanyl
  • Hydrocodone
  • Hydromorphone
  • Methadone
  • Oxycodone
  • Buprenorphine (Schedule III)
  • Tramadol (Schedule IV)
  • Meperidine

All opioids appear on the DEA’s controlled substances schedule, and all but heroin, buprenorphine, and tramadol are considered Schedule II.

Stimulant Class

Stimulants speed up the systems in the body and cause feelings of alertness, enhanced energy, increased breathing, rapid heart rate, and a better ability to focus. Prescription drugs in this class are used to treat ADHD and appear in pill or capsule form. Illicit drugs in the stimulant class can be snorted, smoked, or injected for their effects and can cause a fatal heart attack or stroke in the case of an overdose.

Drugs in the stimulant class include:

  • Cocaine
  • Methamphetamine
  • Dextroamphetamine
  • Caffeine
  • Phenmetrazine
  • Methylphenidate

Cocaine and all forms of amphetamines are considered Schedule II controlled substances. Caffeine is the only drug that is not regulated as a stimulant. Ecstasy is also a derivative of this drug class known for its stimulating and hallucinogenic effects.

Benzodiazepine Drug Class

Benzodiazepines are a group of synthetic sedatives prescribed to treat anxiety and panic disorders, seizures, and muscle spasms. These drugs are usually taken in pill form and cause drowsiness, memory loss, confusion, blurred vision, slowed breathing, and impaired cognition when abused or misused.

The most common drugs in the benzodiazepine drug class include:

  • Xanax
  • Valium
  • Ativan
  • Klonopin
  • Clorazepate
  • Chlordiazepoxide
  • Oxazepam

Due to the increase in overdoses and abuse of benzodiazepines, the DEA classified drugs in the class as Schedule IV controlled substances. Benzodiazepines also cause physical dependence, and stopping use suddenly can cause deadly withdrawal symptoms.

Barbiturate Drug Class

Barbiturates are synthetic tranquilizers used to treat seizures, severe headaches, and pain following surgery. Drugs in this class are potent central nervous system depressants that cause euphoria, confusion, impaired coordination, slurred speech, poor judgment, and loss of consciousness. Abusing barbiturates is dangerous, as even the slightest increase in dosage can cause an overdose.

Drugs in the barbiturate class include:

  • Pentobarbital (Schedule II)
  • Phenobarbital (Schedule IV)
  • Methohexital (Schedule IV)
  • Thiopental (Schedule III)
  • Butabarbital (Schedule III)
  • Amobarbital (Schedule II)

Regular barbiturate use can slow breathing which also increases the risk of deadly overdose.

Becoming more knowledgeable of the different drug classes and their effects can help you understand how addiction can impact your health and personal life. Laguna Shores Recovery incorporates drug education into our treatment therapies to encourage healing through recovery. Call us today to learn more about our facility in Mission Viejo at (954) 329-1118.