Learn How to Identify Commonly Abused Drugs

Browse Photos of Street and Prescription Drugs

If you found illegal drugs in your child's room, would you be able to recognize them? Would you know the difference between a harmless allergy medication and dangerous stimulants or sedatives? It's a concern that many parents have and it's important that you can identify what it is your kids may be taking.

The challenge is that many of the most commonly abused drugs can look harmless or like common household items. Prescription pills often look similar to one another and illegal street drugs like heroin or cocaine resemble baking soda or other white powders. How do you know? A good first step is to browse photographs of the most common illegal, prescription, and over-the-counter drugs.


Not all cocaine looks the same. It comes in several different shapes and forms and is packaged differently according to the quantity being shipped or sold.

Cocaine is a white powder and it's often "cut" with cornstarch, flour, sugar, and other similar items. It looks almost exactly like those kitchen staples and drug dealers use these additives to increase their profits.

Bagged cocaine can contain larger "rocks" and the plastic bags can be quite small — not much bigger than a quarter. Also, crack cocaine is often off-white or pink in color and frequently takes the shape of rock candy.

Ecstasy (MDMA)

Ecstasy tablets (or MDMA) are manufactured illegally. Due to this, they are found in many different colors and stamped with a variety of logos.

This popular party drug can also be a powder or capsules, though round tablets are most common. The logos can vary from a "thumbs up" to an "X." Butterflies, fish, and various other designs are imprinted on the tablets.

Even though these can sometimes look like legal medications, they're often manufactured illegally. This makes them even more dangerous because you don't know what's in them.


The problem with identifying heroin by sight is that it looks like many household products. In its purest form, it is a powder that ranges from white to brown. It may be different colors depending on the additives it may contain. Black tar heroin is dark brown to black in color.

Heroin is a highly addictive drug that has made a comeback after years of decline. Much of this is attributed to opioid prescription drug abuse. Users find that heroin is cheaper than buying the pills illegally on the street.


Marijuana (also called cannabis or weed) appears differently depending on its stage of development. It ranges from the growing plant to a rolled-up joint.

Quite often, marijuana is found in sandwich-sized plastic bags. It looks like dried plant material and may be full buds or smaller ground up pieces.

The marijuana plant has very distinctive leaves that are easy to recognize once you're familiar with them. 


Most methamphetamine is homemade in illegal laboratories. It appears in a powder or crystallized form, but it can also come in pills.

Crystal meth looks like very tiny crystals when you view them closely. It's almost like ice and can be clear, white, or slightly off-white in color. Powdered methamphetamine looks similar to cocaine and heroin, making it easy to mistake for household products as well.

The other thing to look for is a meth pipe. This is a common way for users to take the drug and is typically a straight, clear glass rod. It may be burned on one end.

Sedatives and Depressants

Dozens of different sleeping pills and tranquilizers are on the market that can be abused and become addictive. These include Ambien, Ativan, Centrax, Halcion, Valium, Xanax, and many others. OxyContin has become one of the most abused painkillers in the U.S.

The tricky part is identifying the particular pill. The shapes and inscriptions vary greatly depending on the dosage and manufacturer. Remember, there are generic versions of the brand name medications as well. 

If you find questionable pills in your kid's room, it's likely you did not give them permission to use these. It's important to remember that kids may experiment with them, but they should be reminded that these are not "safe" just because they're legal with a prescription.

Stimulants and Amphetamines

From medications used to lose weight to those which treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), stimulants are a popular drug of abuse. These include common names like Dexedrine, Ritalin, and Phentermine.

Because these are prescription medications, teens may get them from other teens or they may trade their own prescriptions. They may also look through your medicine cabinet. For this reason, it's essential that you control who has access to the prescriptions in your home and be familiar with what they look like or if the shape changes.

Is Your Child Using Drugs?

If your child is using drugs or alcohol, chances are they are doing everything they can to cover up that activity. Would you know if your child was using drugsAnswering these questions might help you determine if some of the tell-tell signs of substance abuse are showing up in your home and your child's behavior.