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Top 10 Most Abused Drugs

Brenda Munnerlyn, RN, BSN

Medically reviewed by

Brenda Munnerlyn, RN, BSN

January 23, 2019

Due to an increase in addiction across the United States, it is important for individuals to become familiar with the most commonly abused drugs so they can protect themselves or loved ones from falling into a cycle of addiction.

America Is Facing A Rising Threat From Drugs

Drug abuse is increasingly plaguing our nation. From this, Americans are becoming more familiar with the ways it can bring a person’s life to dangerous extremes, sometimes in a way which results in a fatal overdose. But despite this, many individuals may be hard-pressed to name the drugs which most affect our country.

A person may be quick to think of alcohol, while others may not since its legal standing and cultural acceptance often skews the reality that it is, in fact, a drug, and a harmful one indeed when abused.

Beyond this, and due to our nation’s opioid epidemic, you may think of heroin or prescription painkillers. These substances are all heavily abused in a manner which leads to severe addiction.

Media, entertainment, and social lore may have made you familiar with cocaine or marijuana. But what then? While these all fall within the most abused drugs within our nation, it’s within the best interest of protecting yourself and those you hold dear to be aware of the others.

Our youth are increasingly exposed to drug abuse and temptation at younger ages. College students and professionals alike find their way onto this dangerous path as they try to increase their production at school or work with what they believe to be performance-enhancing prescription stimulants. Regardless of how or why you start, one thing is certain: if you don’t get help, addiction will destroy your life.

What Drugs Are People Using The Most Of?

The National Institute On Drug Abuse (NIDA) published the most recent findings of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), a nationwide survey which studies drug use within individuals aged 12 and older.

After marijuana misuse, psychotherapeutic drugs (prescription drugs) ranked highest, but for our purposes, we’ll first break this category down so you can see the specific classes of drugs.

Here are the top ten drugs according to their results, in regard to past-year drug misuse and abuse. Some listings include an entire class of drugs, versus one specific drug. We will break down the drug class into more specific terms later on.

  1. Alcohol
  2. Marijuana
  3. Pain relievers
  4. Tranquilizers
  5. Stimulants
  6. Cocaine and hallucinogens tied
  7. MDMA
  8. Inhalants
  9. Sedatives, methamphetamine, and LSD tied after this

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Understanding The Most Heavily Abused Classes Of Drugs

Since prescription drug abuse ranked second overall, we’re going to list the most commonly abused drug type within each class of drugs. These drugs are either abused for recreational purposes to elicit a high, euphoric state, or other desirable “feel good effect,” or because a person is trying to self-medicate a physical or mental health issue.

Here at the top ten most abused prescription drugs, according to

  • Pain relievers: Codeine, hydrocodone, fentanyl, and morphine
  • Tranquilizers: Valium and Xanax (both benzodiazepines)
  • Stimulants: Adderall and Ritalin
  • Sedatives: Ambien and Lunesta (both sleep aids)

Drug Use Can Change By Age And Demographic

Patterns and behaviors of drug misuse and abuse can, and do, change within certain demographics. A good example is heroin. While it did not rank within the top ten most abused drugs within the NSDUH study, it presents a growing threat in our nation. Heroin is partly responsible for the rising opioid drug epidemic. Certain groups of individuals, most notably young, white males are using this drug at heightened rates.

Also, within certain age brackets some drugs are used more heavily or less so than others. This is especially evident with adolescents. While included in the above results, this groups drug-abusing patterns have been shown to vary somewhat from the overall trends of the study.

What Drugs Do Adolescents Use Most Heavily?

Drug abuse can start young. When this occurs, the user is exposed to a unique set of risk factors that adults don’t face. As NIDA cautions, “research shows that the earlier a person begins to use drugs, the more likely he or she is to develop serious problems.”

With this in mind, parents, educators and other adults who play a supportive role within adolescents’ lives need to be aware of the drugs which pose the greatest threat to this demographic.

The 2016 findings of The Monitoring the Future Study reports on drug trends in adolescents in grades 8, 10, and 12. Within these ages, the following drugs are used most heavily:

  1. Alcohol
  2. Marijuana/Hashish
  3. Amphetamines
  4. Tranquilizers
  5. Over-the-counter cough and cold medicines
  6. Synthetic marijuana (“K2” or “Spice”)
  7. Hallucinogens
  8. Inhalants
  9. OxyContin
  10. Vicodin

The good news is that NIDA reported that “Across all grades, past-year use of inhalants, heroin, methamphetamine, alcohol, cigarettes, and synthetic cannabinoids are at their lowest by many measures.” This positive, downward trend affirms the great benefit protective measures, education, and active prevention and outreach can have within your child’s life.

If, however, you’re concerned that your teen is struggling with drug abuse or addiction, we can help you to intercede on their behalf and create a treatment plan.

Ten Good Reasons To Seek Treatment

Just because a drug it not included in this ranking does not mean that it isn’t dangerous, addictive, or responsible for ruining countless American lives. The bottom line is that any drug of abuse, no matter the form or shape of abuse, endangers your life and health.

Many of the drugs we included in our ranking can form an intense physical dependence, severe addiction, acute withdrawal, and even deadly overdose. Treatment helps to protect you from these dangers occurring or continuing within your life.

Here are ten more things a good inpatient drug rehab program can do for you:

  1. A medical detox makes withdrawal more comfortable and could save your life.
  2. Treatment increases your chances of sobriety.
  3. Inpatient treatment removes you from harmful temptations which can cause relapse.
  4. Some programs can treat co-occurring mental health disorders.
  5. Learn coping and relapse prevention skills to help prevent a return to drug addiction.
  6. Take part in family therapy and support to repair damaged relationships.
  7. Learn interpersonal skills which will help you succeed in school, work, and at home.
  8. Rehab will teach you how to handle your life better in a way that enhances sobriety.
  9. Recovery is easier with compassionate support.
  10. Rehab connects you to valuable aftercare resources

The right treatment program for you is always one which adapts treatment to suit the unique needs of your life, whether it be your health, social concerns, or another issue which is specific to your circumstances.

Take Charge Over Your Drug Abuse Today

If you’d like to learn more about any of the drugs we mentioned today, or about how to treat their addictions, contact us now. is standing by to offer you a confidential assessment today.

National Institute On Drug Abuse (NIDA) - National Survey of Drug Use and Health

National Institute On Drug Abuse (NIDA) - Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction

The Monitoring the Future Study - Trends in Annual Prevalence of Use of Various Drugs for Grades 8, 10, and 12 Combined

Healthfully - 10 Most Abused Prescription Drugs

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