In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Drugs and Behavior

  • Introduction
  • General Textbooks
  • Books of Readings
  • Journals
  • Epidemiological Studies of Drug Use
  • Criminology and Criminal Justice Issues
  • Prescription and Nonprescription Drugs
  • Inhalants
  • Performance-Enhancing Drugs
  • Polysubstance Use and Abuse
  • Substance-Abuse Prevention
  • Substance-Abuse Treatment

Psychology Drugs and Behavior
Charles F. Levinthal
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0045


Psychoactive drugs are chemical substances that, when consumed, alter neurochemical processes in the brain and hence produce changes in behavior and experience. Drugs of this type are typically classified along a number of somewhat overlapping dimensions: their overall pharmacological effects (e.g., stimulants versus depressants), their potential for abuse and dependence, and the extent of governmental regulation over public access. At one end of the regulatory spectrum in the United States are some psychoactive drugs (e.g., heroin, hallucinogens, methamphetamine, and cocaine) that are designated under federal statutes as Schedule I or II controlled substances, with significant criminal penalties imposed on their sale and unauthorized possession. At the other end are psychoactive drugs that are legally available to the general public, regulated only through minimum-age requirements for purchase (alcohol and nicotine) or no restrictions at all (caffeine). Marijuana is situated between these extremes, due to its current designation by federal authorities as a Schedule I controlled substance (defined as having a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use), while being legally available for medical purposes or general recreational use by adults in some US states. Psychoactive drugs for which legal access requires a prescription and is restricted to medical supervision include anabolic steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs, opioid (opiate-based) pain medications, stimulant medications, and drugs used in the treatment of psychological disorders such as depression and schizophrenia. The inhalation of psychoactive compounds in commercial glues and solvent-based household products is largely unregulated. The potential for psychoactive drug use to result in problems of substance abuse and substance dependence, as defined by health professionals, is a major public safety and public health concern in America and around the world. An understanding of the complex interplay of biological, psychological, and sociological circumstances underlying drug experimentation and possible compulsive drug use is necessary for the development of effective prevention programs and treatment interventions. The first section of this article introduces the general textbooks and journals that deal with issues of drugs and behavior, and the major epidemiological studies that track year-to-year changes in the prevalence of drug use and its adverse consequences. The second section addresses the general phenomenon of drug-taking behavior from historical, neurophysiological, sociocultural, psychological, and health professional perspectives, as well as issues related to criminology and criminal justice. The third section focuses on the past and present use and abuse of major psychoactive drugs and the diverse circumstances of polysubstance (multiple substance) use and abuse. The fourth section focuses on prescription and nonprescription drugs, performance-enhancing drugs, and inhalants. The fifth section reviews the range of drugs used in psychiatric practice. The article concludes with references pertaining to general strategies and public policies for substance-abuse prevention and treatment.

General Textbooks

General textbooks in drugs and behavior provide a comprehensive survey of all forms of psychoactive drug use and abuse, incorporating a relatively balanced combination of historical, pharmacological, sociocultural, and psychological perspectives. The major textbooks listed here (Hanson, et al. 2018; Hart and Ksir 2015; Kuhn, et al. 2014; Levinthal 2014; Levinthal 2016a; Levinthal 2016b; Levinthal and Hamilton 2016; Maisto, et al. 2015) are oriented primarily to undergraduate students, with updated revisions that address the continual changes in the modern drug scene. In the case of Kinney 2014, the textbook focuses exclusively on alcohol use and abuse and also functions as an undergraduate text, although alcohol-abuse treatment counselors have found it to be useful as well.

  • Hanson, Glenn R., Peter J. Venturelli, and Annette E. Fleckenstein. 2018. Drugs and society. 13th ed. Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett.

    A comprehensive textbook on drug use and abuse in America, with extensive features related to clinical substance-abuse treatment cases from the files of the authors.

  • Hart, Carl L., and Charles Ksir. 2015. Drugs, society, and human behavior. 16th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Education.

    A comprehensive textbook on drug use and abuse in America, originally authored by the noted pharmacologist Oakley Ray.

  • Kinney, Jean. 2014. Loosening the grip: A handbook of alcohol information. 11th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Education.

    A textbook on alcohol use and alcohol abuse, with extensive coverage on the dysfunctional family dynamics involved in alcoholism, and the importance in understanding family dysfunctionality in developing effective alcoholism treatment. This book is unique in that it contains many entertaining and edifying cartoons that work well with the text material.

  • Kuhn, Cynthia, Scott Swartzwelder, and Wilkie Wilson. 2014. Buzzed: The straight facts about the most used and abused drugs from alcohol to Ecstasy. 4th ed. New York: Norton.

    A practical, user-friendly guidebook covering the entire range of psychoactive drugs and aspects of drug-taking behavior.

  • Levinthal, Charles F. 2014. Drugs, behavior, and modern society. 8th ed. Boston: Pearson.

    A comprehensive textbook on the impact of drug use and abuse on American society and one’s daily life, as examined from a balance of historical, biological, psychological, and sociological perspectives.

  • Levinthal, Charles F. 2016a. Drugs, behavior, and modern society. Updated 8th ed. Boston: Pearson.

    A digital version of Levinthal 2014, with updated statistics and other information. The digital version is available through an access code card. An unbounded print version is available as a separate purchase.

  • Levinthal, Charles F. 2016b. Drugs, society, and criminal justice. 4th ed. Boston: Pearson.

    A comprehensive textbook on drug-taking behavior in America from the perspective of the criminal justice system, and the governmental regulations that have been designed to deal with the adverse societal impact of substance abuse.

  • Levinthal, Charles F., and Trevor Hamilton. 2016. Drugs, behaviour, and modern society. Canadian ed. Toronto: Pearson Canada.

    A comprehensive textbook on drug-taking behavior as it pertains to Canadian society and Canadian citizens; based on Levinthal 2014.

  • Maisto, Stephen A., Mark Galizio, and Gerard J. Connors. 2015. Drug use and abuse. 7th ed. Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning.

    A comprehensive textbook on drug use and abuse in America, with a separate chapter on drug history.

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