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5 Methods of Drug Abuse

Written by Laura Herrmann, MA | Updated on Sep 28, 2023

Medically reviewed by Dr. Patrick J. Gallus, DO

In order for drugs to affect the brain, they must first be put into the body. For example, there are five methods of drug abuse that allow drugs to enter the body: swallowing, smoking, snorting, through suppositories, and injecting.


Ingesting or swallowing drugs is the most common method of drug use. The individual takes the drugs by mouth. The drugs pass to the stomach and then into the bloodstream. Of all the methods of drug abuse, taking drugs by mouth is considered to be one of the safest methods. This allows the body time to absorb the drug, and the digestive system will self-induce vomiting as a defense mechanism to ingesting something that does not agree with it.

Pills and Capsules

This method often involves the abuse of prescription medications, such as opioids (e.g., Oxycontin), benzodiazepines (e.g., Xanax), or stimulants (e.g., Adderall).

Liquid Forms

Alcohol and certain prescription medications like cough syrups containing codeine or promethazine are commonly abused through ingestion in liquid form.

A woman swallowing a pill


This method gets the drugs into the body’s system a bit faster than swallowing the drugs, because the smoke goes into the lungs, where it quickly moves into the bloodstream. The most common drugs that individuals smoke are marijuana, heroin, crack, and opium. Individuals who smoke drugs are at risk for cancer of the mouth, throat, and lungs; as well as heart disease, cardiac arrest, stroke, emphysema, bronchitis, pneumonia, pulmonary disorders, and hypertension.

Substances commonly abused through smoking include tobacco, marijuana, and in some cases, harder drugs like heroin, crack cocaine, or methamphetamine.


A man smoking drugs


Some individuals snort drugs such as ecstasy, cocaine, heroin, and amphetamines. Drugs enter into the bloodstream through the nasal mucus membranes and through the stomach. Individuals snorting drugs will experience the drug sensation within about 15 minutes after snorting their drugs. There are a number of complications from snorting drugs. For example, the deterioration of the lining of the nasal cavity and the septum can occur, and sharing straws and other items to snort the drugs can lead to hepatitis C and HIV.

This method is most commonly associated with cocaine but can also involve other substances, like crushed prescription pills or heroin.


A man snorting drugs


Drugs that enter the body through suppositories are delivered into the bloodstream through the rectum’s mucus membrane. While this is not a common method of drug abuse, common drugs that individuals take using this method are cocaine, speed, and ecstasy. The mucus membranes in the rectum are sensitive. For example, certain drugs may have a high level of acidity and can cause the rectum lining to be permanently damaged. There is also a risk of perforating the lower colon, which can be fatal.

A man sitting on a toilet


Injecting drugs is the fastest method for experiencing a high from drug use, because it puts the drug directly into the bloodstream. Individuals can inject drugs into the soft tissue, into the muscle, or directly into the vein. Individuals who inject drugs will experience the high within 3 to 5 seconds (immediately). In turn, this method of drug delivery goes directly to the brain, escaping the body’s natural defense mechanisms, including the digestive system. The dangers of injecting drugs include infection at the injection site, as well as the risk associated with sharing needles, including the transmission of HIV and hepatitis. Some individuals may experience collapsing veins and arterial damage, leading to gangrene, thrombosis, and hemorrhaging.

Intravenous (IV)

This method is commonly associated with the use of heroin, but can also involve methamphetamine or prescription drugs when liquefied.

Intramuscular (IM)

Less common than IV use, IM injections still allow for quick absorption and can involve substances like steroids.

A man injecting drugs

Get Help With Drug Abuse at Gallus Detox Centers

If you or someone you know is struggling with drug abuse and are in need of detox, Gallus Detox Centers can help. Gallus Detox Centers specializes in many quality addiction detox programs, such as:

  • IV therapy medical detox
  • Behavioral therapy
  • Holistic detox
  • 3-day alcohol detox

Call Gallus Detox Centers today at 866-272-5978 to see if our treatment program is right for you.

Laura Herrmann, MA

Laura is the Chief Outreach and Marketing Officer at Gallus Medical Detox, she has over 20 years of experience in the healthcare marketing field in digital, social, product marketing, strategy and sales leadership. Her passion for those struggling and recovering from substance use disorder and mental health as well as advocacy for patient empowerment has driven her career and continues to be the motivation to work within the best treatment options to help those struggling. With a Master’s Degree from Tufts School of Medicine and Emerson College in Health Communication, Laura has continued to find excitement and challenge in her chosen field. She is also the Board President, BarZero and Board Member of the Colorado Professional Liaison Association.

Last medically reviewed on November 06, 2016

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Dr. Patrick J. Gallus, DO
Apr 11, 2024
Dr. Patrick J. Gallus, DO
Apr 9, 2024
Dr. Patrick J. Gallus, DO
Apr 8, 2024

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