Oral Drug Use: Signs, Effects & Types

Ingesting drugs, also known as oral drug use, is a common way to use illicit and prescription drugs. Using drugs of any kind, whether prescribed by a doctor or obtained illegally, comes with inherent risks. Drug use can lead to dangerous behavior, dependence and addiction, and related consequences. It affects not only the person using substances, but also those around them.

This page will provide an overview of drugs that are taken orally, warning signs of addiction, oral drug long-term effects, and what to do if you suspect you or someone you know might be misusing drugs orally.

What Is Oral Drug Use?

Oral drug use is a method of taking substances through the mouth. Many different medications and drugs are taken orally.1 Examples of oral drug forms include: 1

  • Capsules.
  • Tablets.
  • Lozenges.
  • Drinkable liquids.

The oral ingestion of drugs is the most common method and involves multiple biological processes.2 When a drug is taken orally, in the form of a pill or liquid, it is absorbed through the lining of the stomach and intestines and metabolized by the liver.2

A person’s pH and metabolic enzymes in their gastrointestinal tract play a significant role in influencing oral absorption.2 As a result of these individual factors, there is a fair amount of unpredictability as to how a person might react to certain drugs.2

What Types of Drugs Are Taken Orally?

Drugs that are commonly taken orally include the following:3

What Are the Signs Someone May Be Ingesting Drugs?

Someone who is orally ingesting drugs may show signs of addiction. Addiction is characterized by a person’s continued drug-seeking behavior, despite negative cognitive, behavioral, and physiological symptoms that persist as a result of their use.4

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5) uses specific criteria to determine substance use disorders (SUDs) and their level of severity, essentially based on a pathological pattern of behaviors related to the use of a substance. The criteria include the following:4

  • Taking a substance in larger amounts or for a longer period than intended
  • Unsuccessful attempts to decrease or discontinue substance use
  • Spending a great deal of time obtaining, using, or recovering from substance use
  • Cravings
  • Recurrent substance use resulting in a failure to fulfill major obligations at work, school, or home
  • Continued use despite persistent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of substance use
  • Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of substance use
  • Recurrent substance use in situations that are physically hazardous
  • Recurrent use despite physical or psychological problems that are caused or exacerbated by the substance
  • Developing a tolerance and causing the body to no longer respond to the substance the way it initially did
  • Experiencing withdrawal when lessening the amount of substance used or stopping altogether

Although only a licensed medical professional can diagnose addiction, the above signs may prove helpful when trying to determine if someone needs help for their oral drug use.

Long-Term Effects & Risks of Ingesting Drugs

Continued oral ingestion and misuse of drugs can cause impairments in the part of the brain that deals with decision-making and judgment, which may lead to risky behaviors that carry many additional health risks, such as driving under the influence or spreading infectious diseases through unprotected sex or shared needles.3

The long-term effects of drug use will vary depending on the drug and the person. Addiction has the potential to result in many far-reaching effects, including:5

  • Heart disease.
  • Lung disease.
  • Stroke.
  • Cancer.
  • Increased risk of contracting hepatitis B and C.
  • Increased risk of contracting HIV/AIDS.

It can also cause or exacerbate many mental health conditions, particularly anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia.5

The following are common drugs that can be taken orally and their potential long-term effects:3,6

  • Alcohol: High blood pressure, heart disease, liver disease, stroke, increased risk of various types of cancer, learning and memory issues, depression, anxiety.
  • Cannabis: Chronic cough, mental health issues, respiratory infections.
  • Opioids: Physical and psychological dependence, constipation, stomach cramps, liver or kidney disease, high risk of overdose.
  • Hallucinogens: Flashbacks, visual disturbances, paranoia, mood swings.
  • MDMA: Confusion, depression, memory and sleep issues, increased anxiety.
  • Methamphetamines: Insomnia, anxiety, mood issues, paranoia, weight loss, severe dental problems, itching that leads to sores from excessive scratching.
  • Prescription Stimulants: Heart problems, paranoia, anger, psychosis.
  • Tobacco/Nicotine: High risk of various types of cancers, heart disease, and cataracts.

What to Do if You Suspect Someone Is Ingesting Drugs

If you suspect someone you care about is ingesting drugs, there are ways to help. Finding the right treatment program to address a person’s specific needs is essential. Helping a loved one with addiction can feel overwhelming but there are resources that can point you in the right direction.

Treatment facilities and rehab centers such as Desert Hope in Las Vegas, Nevada, offer multiple levels of addiction treatment to fit each person’s individual needs. Only a doctor or trained clinician can properly assess which is most appropriate.

Depending on the severity of a person’s substance use disorder and individual circumstances, any of the following treatment programs will likely be considered:

For some, a short stay in rehab is best, while others may need more intensive, inpatient treatment under direct medical supervision. These patients may stay for anywhere from 30 days of rehab to 2+ months of rehab.

At Desert Hope Treatment Center, compassionate admissions navigators are available 24/7 to help you learn what to expect in treatment and guide you through the admissions process.

Admissions navigators will also help you determine how to pay for addiction treatment. The Affordable Care Act not only expanded health insurance coverage to millions of Americans but also requires that substance use and mental health treatment be covered on par with medical or surgical procedures.6

While individual policies will vary, it is possible your insurance coverage may cover the cost of rehab. If you don’t have insurance, there are other ways to pay for rehab at Desert Hope, including financing or payment plans.

Help is available. Don’t wait to begin your recovery, call or start the admissions process by instantly now.

The Price of Not Getting Help
When contemplating the costs of addiction treatment for yourself, child, or loved one, consider the costs, or consequences, of “things as they are now.” What would happen if the substance abuse or addiction continued? Rehab doesn't have to be expensive. We accept a variety of insurances. Learn more below.