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The Differences Between Hard and Soft Drugs

In conversations about the dangers of addiction, two confusing terms are sometimes thrown around — “hard drugs” and “soft drugs.” These arbitrary categories have no clear criteria or definition, and they also have no scientific basis. Most people will say that hard drugs should be avoided like the plague. Some mistakenly think that soft drugs are mostly safe, while others believe they serve as gateway drugs to harder substances.

In reality, there are many differences between hard and soft drugs — but the differences might not matter as much as you think.

Hard Drugs vs. Soft Drugs

The hard and soft categories people use to describe drugs are chosen more for dramatic impact than anything else. They tell you nothing about the harmfulness of one substance compared to another. Hard drugs are considered more toxic and addictive. Many people have the misconception that they are more dangerous than soft drugs as a result, which isn’t necessarily true.

Most drugs are categorized as hard or soft based on public opinion rather than clear criteria. Consider prescription opioids. These painkillers are chemically similar to heroin and are among the most misused substances in the world. Yet, few people would describe a prescription medication as a hard drug.

What Is Considered Hard Drugs?

While it’s difficult to define hard drugs, these substances are those seen as more potent and toxic, both physically and mentally. These highly addictive drugs are usually injectable, causing the most damage to organs and natural functions in the shortest amount of time.

The following substances are considered hard drugs:

  • Heroin
  • Crystal methamphetamine
  • Cocaine and crack
  • Opioids
  • PCP
  • Ecstasy
  • Ketamine
  • Hallucinogens, such as LSD

Soft Drug Definition

Soft drugs are considered less harmful than hard drugs, producing little to no physical or mental damage. The term “soft drug” is often used interchangeably with the phrase “gateway drug.” The drugs in this category are either there because they are legal to use or more socially acceptable than hard drugs. Soft drugs include:

  • Alcohol
  • Nicotine
  • Marijuana
  • DMT
  • Psilocybin mushrooms, also called shrooms

While soft drugs are perceived as less physically and mentally addictive and less harmful, that’s not necessarily the case. Alcohol, nicotine and marijuana can lead to serious health problems, like liver disease, impaired brain function and several forms of cancer.

Why Misusing Any Substance Is Dangerous

Today, many people use the hard versus soft drug debate as an excuse to make certain substances more socially acceptable than their hard counterparts. The truth is that all drugs, whether hard or soft, have the potential to cause severe physical and mental harm.

Substance use is not safe or healthy. Regardless of how people try to categorize drugs, those who fall into patterns of misuse can experience many health complications due to addiction.

Whether you find yourself drinking too much or you struggle with a serious opioid addiction, help is available at Gateway Foundation. We treat addictions to both hard and soft drugs. We want to see you break free from substance use. Contact us today to learn more about our individualized addiction treatment programs.

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