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Other Commonly Abused Substances

By

Gerald F. O’Malley

, DO, Grand Strand Regional Medical Center;


Rika O’Malley

, MD, Albert Einstein Medical Center

Last full review/revision Jun 2020| Content last modified Jun 2020
Click here for the Professional Version

Recreational drug use typically involves mind-altering drugs, but it may involve drugs taken for other purposes, usually losing weight or enhancing athletic performance. Taking these drugs without medical need and medical supervision can endanger the quality of life, health, or safety of the user. Using a drug this way is considered a substance use disorder Substance Use Disorders Substance use disorders generally involve behavior patterns in which people continue to use a substance despite having problems caused by its use. The substances involved tend to be members... read more . Anabolic steroids Anabolic Steroids Anabolic steroids are synthetic (man-made) versions of testosterone that are used to increase muscle size. Anabolic steroids are hormones that promote muscle growth and increase strength and... read more are probably the most commonly used drugs in this group. Others include

Diuretics

Diuretics are drugs that speed the elimination of salt and water by the kidneys. Diuretics are used to treat a variety of disorders, including high blood pressure High Blood Pressure read more and heart failure Heart Failure (HF) Heart failure is a disorder in which the heart is unable to keep up with the demands of the body, leading to reduced blood flow, back-up (congestion) of blood in the veins and lungs, and/or... read more Heart Failure (HF) . However, some people, including athletes and people with eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa Anorexia Nervosa Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by a relentless pursuit of thinness, a distorted body image, an extreme fear of obesity, and restriction of food consumption, leading to... read more , take diuretics to help them lose weight quickly. Inappropriate use of diuretics may cause dehydration Dehydration Dehydration is a deficiency of water in the body. Vomiting, diarrhea, excessive sweating, burns, kidney failure, and use of diuretics may cause dehydration. People feel thirsty, and as dehydration... read more and severe deficiencies of electrolytes Overview of Electrolytes Well over half of the body's weight is made up of water. Doctors think about the body's water as being restricted to various spaces, called fluid compartments. The three main compartments are... read more such as potassium Hypokalemia (Low Level of Potassium in the Blood) In hypokalemia, the level of potassium in blood is too low. A low potassium level has many causes but usually results from vomiting, diarrhea, adrenal gland disorders, or use of diuretics. A... read more . Such deficiencies can lead to severe illness or death.

Erythropoietin and Darbepoetin

Erythropoietin is a hormone produced by the kidneys. It stimulates bone marrow to produce red blood cells Red Blood Cells The main components of blood include Plasma Red blood cells White blood cells Platelets read more Red Blood Cells . Erythropoietin is also manufactured as a drug. Darbepoetin is a drug similar to erythropoietin. Both drugs are used to increase production of red blood cells in people with certain kinds of anemia. These drugs may be taken by athletes because they believe that with more red blood cells, more oxygen can get to their muscles, enabling them to perform better.

Using erythropoietin or darbepoetin without medical need may change the body’s regulation of red blood cell production, so that the number of red blood cells suddenly decreases when these drugs are stopped.

Growth Hormone

Growth hormone is produced by the pituitary gland Overview of the Pituitary Gland The pituitary is a pea-sized gland that is housed within a bony structure (sella turcica) at the base of the brain. The sella turcica protects the pituitary but allows very little room for expansion... read more to help the body control how proteins, carbohydrates, and fats are used to stimulate growth. Growth hormone is also manufactured as a drug and is sometimes given to children of small stature when their body is unable to make enough growth hormone. Some athletes abuse growth hormone because they believe it can increase muscle growth and strength while decreasing body fat.

Use of growth hormone without medical need over a long period can cause an increase in fat levels in the blood, diabetes, and an increase in heart size, which may result in heart failure Heart Failure (HF) Heart failure is a disorder in which the heart is unable to keep up with the demands of the body, leading to reduced blood flow, back-up (congestion) of blood in the veins and lungs, and/or... read more Heart Failure (HF) .

Laboratory tests to identify growth hormone not made by the person’s own body are not routinely available.

Ipecac Syrup

Ipecac syrup is a drug that triggers vomiting. It is sometimes used to treat children who have swallowed chemicals or poisons. However, people with eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa Anorexia Nervosa Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by a relentless pursuit of thinness, a distorted body image, an extreme fear of obesity, and restriction of food consumption, leading to... read more often take ipecac syrup to help them lose weight. Inappropriate use of ipecac may cause diarrhea, severe deficiencies of electrolytes, weakness, irregular heart rhythms, and heart failure Heart Failure (HF) Heart failure is a disorder in which the heart is unable to keep up with the demands of the body, leading to reduced blood flow, back-up (congestion) of blood in the veins and lungs, and/or... read more Heart Failure (HF) .

Laxatives

Laxatives are drugs that speed the passage of substances through the digestive tract and that are used to treat constipation. However, people who falsely believe they must have frequent bowel movements as part of being healthy often abuse laxatives. In addition, people with eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa Anorexia Nervosa Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by a relentless pursuit of thinness, a distorted body image, an extreme fear of obesity, and restriction of food consumption, leading to... read more sometimes take laxatives because they believe doing so can help them lose weight.

Laxatives used often and without medical need may cause dehydration Dehydration Dehydration is a deficiency of water in the body. Vomiting, diarrhea, excessive sweating, burns, kidney failure, and use of diuretics may cause dehydration. People feel thirsty, and as dehydration... read more and severe deficiencies of electrolytes. Regular use of laxatives can also interfere with absorption of other drugs, causing them to stop working. Inappropriate use of laxatives over a long period can damage the muscle layers of the large intestine. Severe constipation and other intestinal disorders (such as diverticulosis Diverticulosis of the Large Intestine Diverticulosis is the presence of one or more balloon-like sacs (diverticula), usually in the large intestine (colon). The cause of diverticulosis is unknown but may be related to diet, a sedentary... read more Diverticulosis of the Large Intestine ) may result.

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