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The Most Commonly Abused Drugs In America

Clinically Reviewed by: Charee Marquez, LMFT

What are the Most Commonly Abused Drugs in America?

From young adults to college students to adults, most people who come to us for treatment abuse the following substances and then become addicted to them. Our observation also shows that most people begin using drugs as a casual experiment, or due to prescriptions for pain, however they find themselves unable to quit, leading to dangerous behaviors and harmful consequences. Others overuse drugs beyond their prescribed amounts, or misuse drugs without prescription. While drug use does not automatically lead to addiction, the unfortunate truth is that many substance abusers do become addicts for life.

Recognizing the most commonly abused drugs can help you be aware of exposure to them for yourself or your loved ones.

1. Alcohol

Alcohol has the highest rate of abuse among all drugs/substances, reporting more than 16 million people abusing or misusing alcohol by binge drinking or heavy drinking. Consumption of alcohol can damage the areas of the brain that are important for problem solving, decision making, memory and learning. Alcohol can also damage other organs such as the liver, kidneys, heart and several others. Alcohol still remains one of the major causes of deaths and DUI cases.

Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) in the United States:

  • According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), as of 2020, approximately 14.5 million adults in the United States (ages 18 and older) had AUD.
  • The prevalence of AUD was higher among males than females.
  • About 5.8% of adults in the U.S. had AUD in the past year.

2. Marijuana

Only slightly less than alcohol, marijuana (weed/cannabis/pot/grass) is also one of the highest abused drugs, reporting more than 12 million people using it in some form. Although many states in the USA are legalizing marijuana, there are many risks associated with this substance. One of the risks with marijuana is that it may be laced with other, more addictive substances because there is no regulated way to purchase it in many states.

United States:

  • According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in 2020:
    • Approximately 44.9 million individuals aged 12 and older reported using marijuana in the past year.
    • The prevalence of marijuana use has been increasing among adults, while rates among adolescents have shown fluctuations in recent years.
    • It’s important to note that not all marijuana use is indicative of abuse or problematic use.

3. Opioids

Pain relievers and prescription medications are the next most commonly abused category of drugs, reporting over 10 million people using it in some form such as morphine, codeine, oxycodone, vicodin and several others. Many opioids have high addiction rates, as few as ten days or less for someone to get addicted. What makes them even more dangerous is how many lives are lost due to overuse or misuse of opioids.

Prescription Opioids:

  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2019, there were over 50 million opioid prescriptions dispensed, with an age-adjusted opioid prescribing rate of 53.8 prescriptions per 100 persons.

Opioid Overdose Deaths:

  • The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reported that in 2019, there were over 70,000 drug overdose deaths in the United States, with opioids involved in approximately 50,000 of those cases.
  • The majority of opioid overdose deaths involved synthetic opioids, including illicitly manufactured fentanyl.

Opioid Use Disorder (OUD):

  • SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reported that in 2019, approximately 10.1 million individuals aged 12 or older misused opioids in the past year.
  • The prevalence of opioid use disorder varies across age groups, with higher rates among young adults.

4. Hallucinogens

Mind-altering drugs such as LSD, DMT, MDMA, as well as mushrooms carrying psilocybin are the next category of highly abused drugs. Users of hallucinogens, reported at around 7 million people, use it to experience perception-altering states such as euphoria and ecstasy. However, these hallucinogens are also known to create traumatic emotions and other bodily changes such as enhanced heart rate, increased blood pressure, and several others.

Lifetime Use:

  • According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in 2019:
    • Approximately 19.8 million individuals aged 12 or older reported lifetime use of hallucinogens.

Past Year Use:

  • In the same survey:
    • Approximately 3.3 million individuals aged 12 or older reported past-year use of hallucinogens.

5. Depressants

This category includes medications commonly prescribed for anxiety, panic attacks, depression and other mental health conditions. More than 5 million people misuse or abuse these tranquilizers and sedatives such as benzodiazepines and barbiturates which are typically prescribed for improved sleep and as muscle relaxants.

Benzodiazepine Use:

  • According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in 2019:
    • An estimated 15.3 million individuals aged 12 or older reported past-year misuse of prescription tranquilizers, which include benzodiazepines.

Seeking Treatment? We Can Help!

At California Prime Recovery, as an in-network provider we work with most insurance plans, such as:

If you or a loved one are struggling with mental health challenges or substance abuse, reach out to California Prime Recovery today. Our team of compassionate professionals is here to support your journey towards lasting well-being. Give us a call at 866-208-2390

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