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Commonly Abused Drugs in Massachusetts

Commonly Abused Drugs in Massachusetts

As with many other states, the growing rate of drug abuse in Massachusetts can be greatly attributed to the opioid epidemic.

This epidemic began in the late 1990s after prescriptions for opioids skyrocketed, perpetuating addictive behaviors like “doctor shopping.” However, as a Massachusetts drug treatment center, we know there’s a growing need for addiction treatment in the state for various substances, not just opioids. Keep reading to learn more about the most commonly abused drugs in Massachusetts and their side effects.


What Are The Most Commonly Abused Drugs in Massachusetts?


Up until recently, the rate of drug use in Massachusetts was above the national average. The state is also among the many hit especially hard by the opioid crisis, which has seen thousands of Mass residents affected by drugs like fentanyl, heroin, and prescription painkillers. However, prescription drugs aren’t the only ones causing problems in the Bay State. Below are the top abused drugs in Massachusetts and their side effects.




Between 2018 and 2019, 10,730 people aged 12 and older reported past month alcohol use, and 5,052 reported past-month binge drinking in Massachusetts.1 Alcohol is one of the most commonly abused substances in the U.S. as a whole, partly because it’s legal for people ages 21 and older but also because it’s often widely accessible to people of all ages. Heavy drinking is dangerous for a variety of reasons, one of them being its potential for addiction. Alcohol works by affecting the brain’s communication pathways. As a central nervous system depressant, it slows activity in the brain. When misused, adverse symptoms can occur.


The short and long-term side effects of alcohol abuse include:


  • Impaired judgment
  • Slurred speech
  • Lack of coordination
  • Dehydration
  • Blackouts
  • Shrinking brain
  • Behavioral changes
  • Mood swings
  • Liver damage, failure, and cancer
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Weight gain
  • Vision problems
  • Sallow skin
  • Premature aging
  • Yellowed eyes and skin
  • Lung infections
  • Pancreatitis
  • Infertility
  • Thinning bones
  • Muscle cramps
  • Dependence
  • Addiction


According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 85.6 percent of people in the U.S. ages 18 and older reported that they drank alcohol at some point in their life.2 Not only does alcohol have the potential to produce immediate side effects, but it can also cause horrible side effects when abused long-term, including liver damage, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and addiction. Banyan Treatment Centers Massachusetts offers alcohol treatment for those who want to recover from alcohol’s emotional and physical effects and achieve sobriety.




The rise of opioids in Cape Cod has led to the death of thousands. About 88% of drug overdose deaths in Massachusetts involved at least one opioid in 2018, at a total of 1,991 deaths.3 Among those, heroin and prescription opioids were among the most commonly used. Opioids are a class of narcotics made up of both naturally derived drugs from the opium poppy plant and synthetic drugs made in labs. Both kinds of opioids affect people in the same way. They work by binding to opioid receptors on neurons, activating the release of chemicals like dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in reward and pleasure. Dopamine is usually released by the brain when we do something we enjoy - like eating or sexual activity - but many drugs, especially opioids, also activate it. Not only are opioids addictive because of the chemical changes they cause in the brain, but also because of the euphoric high they produce when abused.


As with alcohol, opioid abuse can cause addiction and various other side effects like:


  • Euphoric and pleasurable feelings
  • Sedation
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sleepiness
  • Shallow breathing or respiratory depression
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Tolerance
  • Addiction


When a person develops a tolerance to a drug, it means they require more of it to experience the same high or side effects. Once a person becomes dependent, they may continue using drugs simply to avoid withdrawal symptoms, even if they understand the repercussions of their actions. Continuing this pattern for a while usually leads to addiction, a disease that can affect a person’s health, family, relationships, finances, and more. Due to the nation’s current opioid epidemic, and more and more people are requiring opiate addiction treatment for a chance at living happy and healthy lives.




Marijuana is one of the most commonly used drugs in Massachusetts because M.A. is one of the 16 states that have legalized the recreational use of cannabis. But while this substance is now legal to use in the Bay State, it doesn’t come without its side effects. Weed or cannabis usually comes as a bundle of dried-up leaves taken from Cannabis Sativa plants. A variety of cannabis plants produce different strains of weed, and some contain more tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) than others. THC is the main psychoactive compound in marijuana that produces a high. It can be baked into foods, smoked, or drunk in teas, all methods of which produce a similar high.


While a weed high may seem like a good idea, it’s difficult to measure how much THC cannabis contains. Different plants have different amounts of THC. Additionally, newer types of “fake weed” called synthetic cannabinoids are becoming popular because they produce an amplified version of a weed high. However, while these drugs are sold as a different kind of marijuana, it’s not. Synthetic cannabinoids are simply man-made drugs full of chemicals.


Although fake weed is dangerous, marijuana can also produce adverse and unpredictable side effects, such as:


  • Euphoria
  • Relaxation
  • Sedation
  • Impaired judgment
  • Heightened sensory perception (seeing brighter colors or sensing stronger smells)
  • Anxiety
  • Fear
  • Distrust
  • Panic
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Lost sense of identity


While some people may feel happy and euphoric when using weed, others may experience scary side effects like anxiety and paranoia. The more THC that a person ingests, the more likely they are to experience these side effects. However, two people can react differently from the same amount of THC, making the symptoms of marijuana use unpredictable.




Cocaine, also known as crack, is a commonly abused central nervous system stimulant that’s highly addictive. Cocaine causes a short-lived high immediately followed by feelings of depression and irritability. Because a cocaine high doesn’t last more than a few minutes or even seconds in those with a high tolerance, users will continue to ingest more of it to maintain the feeling. Due to the addictive nature of coke, people who use it often don’t eat enough and sleep poorly.


Other common side effects of cocaine use include:


  • Euphoria
  • Increased heart rate
  • Sudden crash of depression following a high
  • Irritability
  • Intense drug cravings
  • Troubles sleeping
  • Extreme weight loss
  • Muscle spasms
  • Convulsion
  • Paranoia
  • Anger
  • Hostility
  • Anxiety
  • Increased risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Increased risk of heart attack and stroke
  • Seizures
  • Breathing problems, including respiratory failure
  • Addiction
  • Overdose


Cocaine users with a high tolerance have to use more and more to experience the same high. This higher usage increases the likelihood of cardiovascular and respiratory problems, plus it puts them at a higher risk of overdosing. A drug overdose occurs when a person ingests a toxic dose to the body and can quickly lead to death. Banyan Massachusetts provides cocaine treatment for those struggling with a coke addiction that need help getting sober.


Whether you’re a Bay State resident or not, our treatment center can help you overcome addiction. Call us now at 888-280-4763 for more information about our outpatient drug treatment programs in Massachusetts.


Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa is the National Director of Digital Marketing and is responsible for a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. All articles have been written by Alyssa and medically reviewed by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Darrin Mangiacarne.
Commonly Abused Drugs in Massachusetts
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