Synthetic Drug Addiction: Side Effects, Withdrawal, Detox, and Treatment

synthetic drugs

What Are Synthetic Drugs?

Synthetic drugs, also referred to as “club drugs” or “party drugs,” are man-made designer drugs that are manufactured in clandestine laboratories. They are made to mimic the effects of other addictive drugs and marketed to users as a “safe high.” These drugs include substances like bath salts and Spice (or K2).

Despite the fact that they are supposed to be “safer” than other illegal drugs, the strength and type of ingredients used to make synthetic drugs are often unknown, making them even more dangerous than the drugs they are designed to mimic.

Like many other drugs, synthetic drug abuse can easily lead to addiction, which affects all aspects of life, including a person’s physical, psychological and social well-being.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Synthetic Drug Addiction?

If you are concerned that you or a loved one is addicted to synthetic drugs, some signs of addiction you should watch for include:

  • Being unable to control synthetic drug usage habits
  • Being extremely secretive about activities or whereabouts
  • Neglecting responsibilities at work, school, or home
  • Needing more of the synthetic drug to achieve the same effect (developing a tolerance)
  • Continuing to use synthetic drugs despite the fact that it’s causing harm
  • Experiencing consistent riffs in relationships at work, school, and home

What Are the Side Effects of Synthetic Drug Abuse?

Synthetic drugs are especially dangerous because manufacturers don’t disclose the ingredients that were used to make them. These substances and their active ingredients have not been approved for human consumption, and as a result, the people consuming them have no idea what they are putting into their bodies and may suffer dangerous and unpredictable side effects.

There are many different types of synthetic drugs available (a number that continues to increase rapidly) so the symptoms of abuse and addiction may vary and are often difficult to pinpoint.

Short-term and long-term health problems caused by synthetic drug abuse may include:

  • Chest pain
  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Increased risk of heart attack

Synthetic drug addiction can also lead to psychological problems, such as:

  • Psychotic behavior
  • Self-harming behavior
  • Homicidal behavior
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks

A variety of social problems may also come as a result of synthetic drug addiction, including:

  • Unemployment
  • Financial problems
  • Legal trouble
  • Violence in the home

Statistics and Facts About Synthetic Drugs

  • Between 2010 and 2014, more than 300 synthetic designer drugs with names such as Spice, N-bombe, and K2, have flooded into the United States.1
  • Many synthetic drugs are manufactured in foreign countries without regard to any safety standards typically required by the FDA. They are smuggled into the U.S.2
  • 60 percent of people admitted to an Emergency Department for Spice use are between the ages of 12 and 20.3
  • Most people who abuse bath salts are between the ages of 20 and 29 years old.3
  • Synthetic drugs are much more dangerous than the drugs they are designed to mimic, as they are manufactured with untested, unregulated, and unknown chemicals.4
  • Poison control centers received more than 6,949 calls about synthetic cannabinoids in 2015, compared to 3,680 calls in 2014 and 2,667 calls in 2013.5
  • More than half of opioid overdose deaths are caused by synthetic drugs.6
  • Synthetic opioids were responsible for more than 27,000 overdose deaths in the U.S. in the 12 months prior to November 2017.6
  • Synthetic opioids caused 20,000 overdose deaths in 2016.6
  • Deaths from synthetic opioids like fentanyl (not including methadone), rose 72 percent from 2014 to 2015.7
  • As of May 2018, the synthetic drug fentanyl is the most common drug involved in fatal overdoses.7

Commonly Abused Synthetic Drugs

Synthetic Drug Addiction Treatment Options

Treatment for synthetic drugs should be highly individualized, as a person may not always know exactly what substances he or she has been ingesting regularly. While getting help is vital to overcoming synthetic drug addiction, there are several factors that will affect the type of treatment you or a loved one should seek. These include:

  • Willingness to accept treatment
  • Motivation for seeking treatment
  • Prior treatment and relapse history
  • Financial circumstances

If you or your loved one is ready to receive treatment, a substance abuse treatment specialist or clinical counselor can help you determine the best type of treatment for your needs, which may include one or several of the following options.

Synthetic Drug Detox

Individuals who have abused synthetic drugs for a long time or in large quantities are likely to develop a physical dependence on them. As a result, they will experience uncomfortable synthetic drug withdrawal symptoms when they abruptly stop using them and may need professional treatment to get sober.

opioid addiction detox

Synthetic drug detox and recovery treatment is the first step to starting a comprehensive treatment plan for synthetic drug addiction. Medically-supervised synthetic drug detox provides the support of on-site medical staff who can ensure clients remain safe and comfortable during detox. Since synthetic drug withdrawal can be unpredictable, medical assistance is ideal for managing uncomfortable symptoms and slowly easing clients down into a state of sobriety. During synthetic drug detox, clients may also begin individual and group counseling to address emotional responses to detox and begin planning for ongoing treatment at a rehab facility.

Once synthetic drug withdrawal symptoms have subsided, clients can focus on starting a rehab program to address the underlying causes of synthetic drug addiction and work with treatment specialists to modify harmful behaviors.

Residential Drug Rehab for Synthetic Drug Addiction

After synthetic drug withdrawal is over and you’ve completed a detox program, residential or outpatient synthetic drug rehab can help you sustain long-lasting recovery.

Long-term residential synthetic drug rehab at Nova provides at least 90 days of individualized addiction treatment. Each client’s synthetic drug rehab program is led by a multidisciplinary team that works together to provide the most comprehensive care available. Synthetic drug treatment programs consist of 12-step facilitation, blended with a balanced mix of clinical and medical treatment modalities. This results in a well-rounded care plan that addresses all the aspects of an individual’s addiction while meeting their physical, mental, and emotional needs.

Outpatient Drug Rehab for Synthetic Drug Addiction

intensive outpatient

Outpatient drug rehab is a wonderful way to transition out of residential treatment into a supported lifestyle back at home. This level of synthetic drug treatment is also ideal for those who may not be able to commit to living in a residential facility for 90 days. Outpatient synthetic drug treatment programs for addiction require that clients meet several times a week at a safe location for group sessions. These group meetings allow members to discuss ongoing issues they are experiencing, gain additional insight and perspectives, and continue working through the principles of the 12-step program as they live them out at home.

Sober Living for Synthetic Drug Addiction

After residential or outpatient synthetic drug treatment ends, some clients may prefer or need to enroll in a sober living program. These programs provide a safe, sober place for people in recovery to practice their new life skills. With a substance-free, structured environment, these community living homes provide peer support and ongoing counseling to help people remain sober and accountable during early recovery. Sober living programs require that residents follow the rules and regulations of their structured community home while they continue to meet other life obligations like school and work.

Aftercare for Synthetic Drug Addiction

Aftercare programs are designed for clients who have completed a residential synthetic drug treatment program for addiction. Clients in recovery receive clinical and peer support to help them deal with stressful or emotional life circumstances that may be difficult to handle while practicing sobriety in early recovery. Aftercare programs require that clients meet once a week with peer groups, which provides the essential support and encouragement needed to continue a life of sobriety.

These synthetic drug treatment options listed above can be combined to provide a comprehensive drug addiction program that closes the recovery circle and breaks the hold of addiction in a person’s life.

If you’re ready to make a change in your life, please call Nova Recovery Center today to speak with an admissions representative about our synthetic drug addiction treatment options.


  1. https://www.cnn.com/2014/12/01/us/synthetic-drugs-investigation/
  2. https://www.justthinktwice.gov/article/facts-about-synthetic-drugs
  3. https://www.drugabuse.gov/about-nida/legislative-activities/testimony-to-congress/2013/dangerous-synthetic-drugs
  4. https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/ondcp/ondcp-fact-sheets/synthetic-drugs-k2-spice-bath-salts
  5. https://drugfree.org/learn/drug-and-alcohol-news/calls-poison-control-centers-synthetic-marijuana-almost-doubled-since-last-year/
  6. https://drugfree.org/learn/drug-and-alcohol-news/half-opioid-overdose-deaths-caused-synthetic-drugs/
  7. https://drugfree.org/learn/drug-and-alcohol-news/fentanyl-now-common-drug-involved-fatal-overdoses/

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