Last Updated on May 1, 2021 by Morris Green
Table of contents
- Alcohol and marijuana: highest rate of drug abuse
- Drug use, drug abuse, and substance abuse disorder
- Drug use
- Drug misuse
- Substance use disorder
- Understanding the 10 most commonly abused drugs
- 1. Alcohol
- 2. Marijuana
- 3. Pain relievers (other than heroin)
- 4. Hallucinogens
- 6. Cocaine
- 7. Prescription stimulants
- 8. Inhalants
- 9. Methamphetamine
- 10. Heroin
- Drug abuse and COVID-19
Alcohol and marijuana: highest rate of drug abuse
Alcohol and marijuana have the highest rate of abuse among all drugs.
In the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported:
- 14.5 million Americans aged 12 or older had experienced alcohol dependence or abuse.
- 12 million Americans aged 12 or older used marijuana.
- It is a common misconception that marijuana is not addictive. 4.8 million Americans aged 12 or older met the criteria for dependence or abuse.
- The number of Americans with a marijuana use disorder was more than three times the number for dependence/abuse of prescription pain relievers (1.4 million) and nearly five times times the number for dependence/abuse of cocaine (1 million).
- Marijuana also comprises nearly half of all cases of Illicit Drug Use Disorder (8.3 million people).
The reasons alcohol and marijuana (though still illegal in most states) are so much more likely to be misused and abused are two-fold:
- Both are easier to access, despite the age limitation for purchasing alcohol and the fact that marijuana is illegal in 20 states (and decriminalized in another 13 states)
- Both are cheaper to come by. Even in a recession, alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana are purchased in high numbers because of the low price compared to other “more expensive” habits.
Drug use, drug abuse, and substance abuse disorder
It’s important to differentiate between using drugs, abusing drugs, and being addicted to drugs.
Any kind of drug use is heavily stigmatized in the United States, despite the fact that almost every American adult is a drug user. You read that right: between 85 and 90 percent of Americans take the stimulant caffeine every day when they pour their morning cup of coffee or order a soda with their lunch. Millions more Americans take prescribed medication from their doctor, whether those are prescribed opioids to help with chronic pain, chronic physical illness, or mental illness. And while alcohol is the most commonly abused drug in the United States, many Americans still drink it regularly.
Drug use–particularly using any drug recommended by your doctor–is not a problem so long as you use drugs responsibly. That means using only the recommended amount, only when/if you need them, and only for their intended purpose.
When you start to break or bend these rules, you may be lapsing into drug misuse (otherwise known as drug abuse). Drug misuse can include:
- Taking higher dose than directed or prescribed (overdose)
- Inhaling, “huffing”, or snorting drugs
- Taking a drug for a purpose other than prescribed or directed
- Taking another person’s prescribed drugs
Taking any substance not prescribed for you by your doctor is drug abuse or misuse.
Click here to learn more about the difference between drug use and abuse.
Substance use disorder
While any amount of drug abuse can become dangerous, drug abuse does not always lead to a substance abuse disorder (nor an addiction, which describes the most serious cases of substance use disorder). The NSDUH report found that in 2019, 20.4 million Americans aged 12 or older had a substance use disorder (an alcohol use disorder, illicit drug use disorder, or both). That’s 7.4% of that population!
Understanding the 10 most commonly abused drugs
Though alcohol and marijuana are the top 2 most commonly abused drugs, they are not the only type of drug that people abuse or misuse. In addition to these, people also abuse pain relievers, hallucinogens, depressants, cocaine, inhalants, methamphetamine, and heroin.
The infographic here highlights the 10 most commonly abused drugs in the United States. Were you aware of these numbers?
(Note: unless otherwise specified, all statistics below come from the 2019 NSDUH report, which examined Americans aged 12 years and older.)
Preventing alcohol abuse starts young. North Carolina has a zero tolerance policy for underage drinking. Despite this, the 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey done by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction found that by middle school, 20.4% of students had already tried alcohol. By high school, 24.2% of North Carolina students are actively drinking alcohol. Unfortunately, studies show that young people who start drinking early are more likely to have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol as adults.
Alcohol consumption can damage the brain and most body organs–especially in young people. Areas of the brain that are especially vulnerable to alcohol-related damage are the cerebral cortex (largely responsible for our higher brain functions, including problem solving and decision making), the hippocampus (important for memory and learning), and the cerebellum (important for movement coordination).
- Misuse: 65 million people participated in binge drinking in the month prior to the NSDUH report. In addition, 16 million people reported heavy alcohol use.
- Alcohol Use Disorder: 14.5 million people experienced alcohol dependence or abuse.
Marijuana is a mixture of the dried and shredded leaves, stems, seeds, and flowers of the Cannabis plant intended for use as a psychoactive drug and as medicine. The intoxicating effect of marijuana comes from the amount of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (or THC) content found in the drug.
Common street names for marijuana are: “pot,” “grass,” “herb,” “weed,” “Mary Jane,” “reefer,” “skunk,” “boom,” “gangster,” “kif,” “chronic,” and “ganja.”
Marijuana is decriminalized in North Carolina–but this does not make it legal. Even possessing half an ounce of marijuana is a class 3 misdemeanor that can result in a fine and a mark on your permanent record. Possessing anything more than 1.5 oz is a felony. In addition, because there is no safe, regulated way to purchase marijuana in North Carolina, it may be laced with other, more addictive substances.
If you require assistance related to licensing and regulatory compliance, a cannabis law firm may be able to help.
- Misuse: 12 million people used marijuana in 2019.
- Marijuana Use Disorder: 4.8 million people (over one third of all marijuana users) met the criteria for dependence or abuse.
3. Pain relievers (other than heroin)
Prescription drugs are the #1 most abused drug in this category. Whether obtained from a friend or family member or prescribed by their own doctor, people often misuse or abuse pain relievers such as morphine, codeine, methadone, oxycodone and hydrocodone to experience euphoria or intense excitement.
That said, there are also many people who are taking pain relievers prescribed by their doctors correctly and safely. Not everyone who takes a pain reliever will become addicted; it depends on your own personal risk for addiction.
- Misuse: 9.7 million people misused pain relievers in 2019.
- This number has decreased in recent years, from 12.5 million in 2015.
- Prescription Pain Reliever Use Disorder: 1.4 million of those abusing prescription pain relievers (14%) met the criteria for a prescription pain reliever use disorder.
- This number has also decreased from 2 million in 2015.
(Note: Opioid Use Disorder, of which 1.6 million people meet the clinical criteria, is a combination of those abusing prescription pain relievers and those abusing heroin.)
Hallucinogens are mind or perception-altering drugs that cause a state of euphoria in the brain. LSD and Ecstasy are the most abused drugs in this category, but it also includes psilocybin mushrooms, MDMA, DMT, and ketamine.
Use of these drugs may cause abusers to see vivid colors and images, hear sounds, and feel sensations that seem real but do not exist. Abusers also may have traumatic experiences and emotions that can last for many hours. Some short-term effects can include increased body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure; sweating; loss of appetite; sleeplessness; dry mouth; and tremors.
- Misuse: 6 million people misused hallucinogens in 2019.
- This number has increased from 4.7 million users in 2015.
- The NSDUH report did not include statistics for hallucinogen use disorder.
5. Depressants (tranquilizers & sedatives)
Depressants are usually prescribed to promote sleep or to reduce anxiety. As measured by national surveys, depressants are often categorized as sedatives or tranquilizers. Sedatives primarily include barbiturates (e.g., phenobarbitol) but also comprise sleep medications such as Ambien and Lunesta. Tranquilizers primarily include benzodiazepines such as lorazepam and clonazepam, but also include muscle relaxants and other anti-anxiety medications.
As with pain relievers, there are many Americans that take these medications as-needed for relief from muscle pain and anxiety who do not become addicted.
- Misuse: 5.9 million people misused depressants in 2019.
- This number decreased from 7 million people in 2015.
- Prescription Tranquilizer or Sedative Use Disorder: 681,000 depressant abusers met the criteria for prescription tranquilizer or sedative use disorder.
Cocaine is a powerful stimulant. Stimulants are a class of drugs that can elevate mood, increase feelings of well-being, and increase energy and alertness, but they also have dangerous effects like raising heart rate and blood pressure. Cocaine may also be called “coke,” “Coca,” “C,“ “snow,” “flake,“ “blow,” “bump,“ “candy,” “Charlie,” “rock,” and “toot.”
- Misuse: 5.5 million people misused cocaine in 2019.
- This number has decreased in the last two decades, from 5.9 million in 2002.
- Cocaine Use Disorder: 1 million cocaine users (18%) met the criteria for cocaine use disorder, also showing a decrease since 2002.
7. Prescription stimulants
The most commonly abused prescription stimulant is the ADHD medication Adderall. It can improve attention, executive function, and emotional regulation for people with ADHD. One of the primary components of Adderall is amphetamine, but this is not the same thing as methamphetamine (“meth”). While the two are chemically similar, methamphetamine is far more powerful than Adderall because of how it enters the brain, and meth has a higher chance of misuse and harmful side effects.
That said, people without ADHD should never take Adderall, as it can have very serious side effects when misused. Other stimulants include methylphenidate products and some weight-loss stimulants.
- Misuse: 4.9 million people misused prescription stimulants in 2019.
- Prescription Stimulant Use Disorder: 558,000 prescription stimulant abusers met the clinical criteria for a substance use disorder.
Inhalants are volatile substances found in many household products that induce mind-altering effects. Commonly abused inhalants include solvents with loud fumes (paint thinner, nail polish remover, degreaser, dry-cleaning fluid, cement glue), aerosol sprays (deodorant spray, hair spray, air fresheners, spray paint), and gases (gasoline, kerosene, anesthesia, ether, chloroform, halothane, and nitrous oxide). Inhalants are extremely toxic and can damage the heart, kidneys, lungs, and brain.
- Misuse: 2.1 million people misused inhalants in 2019.
- This number has increased from 1.7 million people in 2016.
- The NSDUH report did not include statistics for inhalant use disorder.
Methamphetamine (commonly called “meth”) is a dangerous and highly addictive stimulant usually obtained illegally. Meth is commonly smoked, snorted, injected, or swallowed. It is also known as “crank”, “chalk”, “crystal”, “fire”, “glass”, “go fast”, “ice”, “speed”, or “Tina”.
- Misuse: 2 million people used meth in 2019.
- Methamphetamine Use Disorder: 1 million meth users (half of all meth users) met the criteria for a methamphetamine use disorder in 2019, an increase since 2016.
Heroin is an opioid drug that is made from morphine, a naturally occurring substance taken from the seed pod of the Asian opium poppy plant. Opioids, also known as opiates, are known for their pain-relieving properties. Only licensed and authorized physicians may prescribe opiates for use to relieve pain. Street names for heroin: “Smack,” “Junk,” “H,” “Black tar,” “Ska,” and “Horse.”
- Misuse: 745,000 Americans used heroin in 2019.
- This number has unfortunately increased from 404,000 people in 2002.
- Heroin Use Disorder: 438,000 heroin users (more than half of all heroin users) met the criteria for heroin use disorder in 2019. This number has more than doubled since 2002.
- Over 14,000 Americans died of heroin overdose in 2019.
Some doctors and pain patients think that the climate around prescription opioids may be partially to blame for this increase; Dr. Gerald Harris II, an addiction treatment specialist from Arizona, said in a 2018 article about pain patients’ responses to the opioid prescription debate, “Unfortunately, a great many patients turn to street heroin and other drugs to self-medicate because they couldn’t get the medications they need.” Certain sociodemographic factors may also create a disparity in chronic pain treatment.
(Note: Opioid Use Disorder, of which 1.6 million people meet the clinical criteria, is a combination of those abusing prescription pain relievers and those abusing heroin.)
Drug abuse and COVID-19
When looking at these numbers, it’s important to remember that the 2019 NSDUH report does not include data from the COVID-19 pandemic. The CDC found that 13% of Americans started or increased their substance abuse during late June 2020. It will take time to fully evaluate the extent of the COVID-19 behavioral health crisis and to see how long these effects last.
Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States.What is the fastest growing drug problem in the United States? ›
Prescription drug abuse is the Nation's fastest-growing drug problem and has been classified as an epidemic by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.What are the 9 drugs of abuse? ›
- Amphetamines, Urine.
- Barbiturates, Urine.
- Benzodiazepines, Urine.
- Cocaine, Urine.
- Marijuana, Urine.
- MDMA, Urine.
- Methadone, Urine.
- Opiates, Urine.
Indeed, alcohol is the most commonly abused drug in the United States, with over half of the population identifying as drinkers. Alcohol comes with a number of complications ranging from health conditions such as liver and kidney failure to more direct hazards such as drunk driving.What is the most heavily abused drug? ›
Marijuana, alcohol, cocaine, meth, heroin — the damage from abusing drugs of any kind can be significant. Learn more about the possible risks of these substances.What is the most common drug offense? ›
The most common drug charge is Possession of Marijuana, which is a misdemeanor, up to a certain amount (the amount varies by state). Possession of Marijuana is gradually being decriminalized, state by state. Even in states where it is not yet decriminalized, the penalty is often just a fine.What is America's best selling drug? ›
The COVID-19 vaccine topped the list of 2022's best-selling pharmaceuticals.Where does the US get most of its drugs? ›
|Country of Origin||Quantity (kilograms)||Percent of Total|
- Acetaminophen & hydrocodone.
- Cannabis (Marijuana/Pot/Weed)
- Central Nervous System Depressants (Benzos)
- Cocaine (Coke/Crack)
Substance abuse has been adopted by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) to include 10 separate classes of drugs, including alcohol, caffeine, cannabis, hallucinogens, inhalants, opioids, sedatives, hypnotics and anxiolytics, stimulants, tobacco, and other substances.Who is the most powerful drug lord? ›
Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán
Guzman is the most notorious drug lord of all time, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). In the 1980s, he was a member of the Guadalajara Cartel and used to work for Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo.
- Cough and cold medicines (dextromethorphan)
- Pain relievers (acetaminophen and ibuprofen)
- Nasal decongestants (pseudoephedrine)
- Motion sickness pills (dimenhydrinate and diphenhydramine)
Alcohol is the most widely abused drug in the world.What is abuse drugs? ›
The use of illegal drugs or the use of prescription or over-the-counter drugs for purposes other than those for which they are meant to be used, or in excessive amounts. Drug abuse may lead to social, physical, emotional, and job-related problems.What are the 8 classes of drugs? ›
- Prescription drugs.
Caffeine is a drug that stimulates (increases the activity of) your brain and nervous system. Caffeine is found in many drinks such as coffee, tea, soft drinks and energy drinks.What are the 4 major drugs that are associated with crimes? ›
Fact Sheet: Drug-Related Crime
Cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and amphetamines are examples of drugs classified to have abuse potential.
- Drug Abuse and Trafficking. Drug abuse and trafficking involve the illegal possession, distribution, and sale of drugs. ...
- Assault. Assault is a violent crime that involves intentional or reckless bodily harm to another person. ...
- DUI/DWI. ...
- Burglary. ...
- Theft. ...
- Fraud. ...
- Robbery. ...
According to a recent Consumer Report survey, more than half of Americans take at least one prescription medication daily, with the average person actually taking four medications.
The most prescribed drug, atorvastatin (sold under brand Lipitor), was prescribed to 24.5 million people in the U.S. in 2019, or 7.5% of the population. It was one of many statin medications listed, which are used to prevent cardiovascular disease and treat abnormal lipid levels.What are the 10 most expensive drugs in the US? ›
|Drug||Annual cost based on length of therapy|
It is estimated that Penicillin has saved between 80 million and 200 million lives and without its discovery and implementation, 75% of people today would not be alive because their ancestors would have succumbed to infection.What type of drug name is Advil? ›
Ibuprofen is often known by its given name, but you may also know it as Advil or Motrin. It is classified as a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). Other members of this drug class include aspirin and naproxen (Aleve).How much do drug mules make? ›
Males and females, as well as U.S. citizens and non- U.S. citizens are all well represented among mules. We also find that mule compensation is substantial (median $1,313), and varies with load characteristics.Are most drugs developed in the US? ›
The United States, through its investment in biomedical research, has become a world leader in drug discovery and development, but is no longer in the forefront of drug manufacturing. Historically, the production of medicines for the U.S. population has been domestically based.What are common expensive drugs? ›
- 1) Tadalafil. Topping the list is tadalafil, with 30-day prices averaging $518. ...
- 2) Zolpidem. ...
- 3) Diclofenac sodium. ...
- 4) Estradiol. ...
- 5) Sildenafil. ...
- 6) Celecoxib.
- 7) Valacyclovir.
- 8) Amphetamine salt combo XR.
Americans buy much more medicine per person than any other country. The number of prescriptions has swelled by two-thirds over the past decade to 3.5 billion yearly, according to IMS Health, a pharmaceutical consulting company. Americans devour even more nonprescription drugs, polling suggests.What pill has 300 on one side? ›
Seroquel 300 mg tablets are white, capsule-shaped and engraved with SEROQUEL on one side and 300 on the other side.What are the top 10 drugs prescribed in the US? ›
However, out of all the medications prescribed each year, the top 10 include Atorvastatin, Albuterol, Omeprazole, Lisinopril, Levothyroxine, Metformin, Amlodipine, Metoprolol, Gabapentin, and Losartan.
Aspirin has often been called a wonder drug, partly because it is powerful and effective for many health problems.What are 3 examples of common drugs? ›
- methamphetamines (e.g. MDMA) and other stimulants such as cocaine.
- new psychoactive substances – synthetic drugs.
- opioids, including heroin.
- the non-medical use of prescription drugs.
Alprazolam is in a class of medications called benzodiazepines. It works by decreasing abnormal excitement in the brain.What are 6 examples of substance abuse? ›
There are 6 types of drug dependence based on the type of substance being abused. These are alcohol, cannabis, hallucinogens, cocaine, opioids, and sedatives. Drug use leading to dependence can originate from both legal and illegal substances.What is 1 type of substance abuse? ›
There are two main types of substance use disorders: alcohol use disorder and drug use disorder. Some people abuse both substances, while others are addicted to one or the other.What are the top 10 most prescribed drugs? ›
The top 10 most prescribed drugs are atorvastatin, levothyroxine, lisinopril, metformin, metoprolol, amlodipine, albuterol, omeprazole, losartan, and gabapentin.What are 50 drugs? ›
- Amoxicillin (Amoxil)
- Vitamin D (Drisdol)
- Ibuprofen (Motrin)
- Levothyroxine (Synthroid)
- Lisinopril (Prinivil, Zestril)
- Amlodipine (Norvasc)
- Prednisone (Deltasone)
- Amphetamine/dextroamphetamine (Adderall, Adderall XR)
Fake prescription pills laced with fentanyl are usually shaped and colored to look like pills sold at pharmacies, like Percocet and Xanax. For example, fake prescription pills known as “M30s” imitate Oxycodone obtained from a pharmacy, but when sold on the street the pills routinely contain fentanyl.Who is the richest drug dealer in the world? ›
"Pablo Escobar".Who are the biggest drug traffickers today? ›
- Yulan Andony Archaga Carias. ...
- Chuen Yip. ...
- Ivan Archivaldo Guzman-Salazar. ...
- Carlos Omar Felix-Gutierrez. ...
- Silvano Francisco-Mariano. ...
- Liborio Nunez-Aguirre. ...
- Alan Gabriel Nunez-Herrera. ...
- Nemesio Oseguera-Cervantes.
Dubbed "the king of cocaine", Escobar was the wealthiest criminal in history, having amassed an estimated net worth of US$30 billion by the time of his death—equivalent to $70 billion as of 2022—while his drug cartel monopolized the cocaine trade into the United States in the 1980s and early 1990s.What is the pill that makes you happy and high? ›
MDMA. MDMA, also known as Ecstasy or Molly, is a synthetic drug that produces a rush of euphoria and increased energy. It's commonly used in the club and rave scene, where people take it to enhance their enjoyment of music and social interaction.What medicine should you not mix? ›
Specifically, drugs that slow down breathing rate, such as opioids, alcohol, antihistamines, CNS depressants, or general anesthetics, should not be taken together because these combinations increase the risk of life-threatening respiratory depression.What drugs have potential for misuse? ›
Drugs with the greatest potential for misuse are prescription opioids, gabapentinoids, benzodiazepines, Z-drugs and stimulants.What is the most widely used illegal drug in the United States quizlet? ›
Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States.What is the third most commonly abused group of drugs? ›
In fact, it can be fatal. Prescription drugs are the third most commonly abused category of drugs, behind alcohol and marijuana and ahead of cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine.Is alcohol the most widely abused drug in the United States True or false? ›
Alcohol is a nervous system depressant and is the most commonly used and abused drug in the United States.What is the most commonly used drug quizlet? ›
Alcohol is the most used and abused psychoactive drug.What is a barbiturate? ›
Barbiturates are a group of sedative-hypnotic medications used for treating seizure disorder, neonatal withdrawal, insomnia, preoperative anxiety, and induction of coma for increased intracranial pressure. They are also useful for inducing anesthesia.Which substance is considered the most commonly used stimulant quizlet? ›
Caffeine is the most widely used stimulant.
- LSD (Acid)
- MDMA (Ecstasy/Molly)
- Mescaline (Peyote)
- Methamphetamine (Crystal/Meth)
- Over-the-Counter Medicines—Dextromethorphan (DXM)
- Over-the-Counter Medicines—Loperamide.
- PCP (Angel Dust)
Dose. The dosage of a drug is prescribed using either the metric or the household system. The metric system is the most commonly accepted system internationally.What are the three most common drug forms? ›
Common dosage forms include pill, tablet, or capsule, drink or syrup, among many others.What alcohol is drank the most in the US? ›
Well, the most popular type of liquor in most U.S. states is whiskey, but vodka is a close second. Meanwhile, staple liquors like tequila and rum aren't the most popular liquor in nearly as many states, so the gap between whiskey and vodka and the other liquors is quite large.Which state has highest alcohol addiction? ›
Unsurprisingly, the most densely populated states in the U.S. consume the most alcohol by volume. California leads the pack with 85.7 million gallons consumed in 2020. Texas, Florida, New York, and Illinois round out the remainder of the top five. Conversely, Wyoming, Alaska, and South Dakota consume the least.How common is alcohol abuse in the US? ›
Prevalence of Past-Year Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) According to the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 29.5 million people ages 12 and older (10.6% in this age group) had AUD in the past year.What type of drug is Xanax? ›
Alprazolam is used to treat anxiety disorders and panic disorder (sudden, unexpected attacks of extreme fear and worry about these attacks). Alprazolam is in a class of medications called benzodiazepines.What was the drug used in the 1970s for anxiety? ›
By the end of the 1960s, Valium was the top-selling psychotropic drug in the country. In the '70s, it became the most widely prescribed drug of any kind.What are reds drug slang? ›
Secobarbital is considered to be an obsolete sedative-hypnotic (sleeping pill), and as a result, it has largely been replaced by the benzodiazepine family. Seconal was widely abused, known on the street as "red devils" or "reds".What is the most consumed stimulant? ›
Caffeine is the most widely used psychoactive substance in the world.
In fact, the most widely used depressant in the world is alcohol.What is the most commonly prescribed stimulant? ›
The most common prescription stimulants include: Adderall (amphetamine/dextroamphetamine) Ritalin and Concerta (methylphenidate) Dexedrine (dextroamphetamine)