New Drugs

Top 5 Most Common Drugs Abused in the USA

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The USA has a drug problem and it’s no secret. Everyone knows someone who is affected by drug and alcohol addiction and there is almost no family or friend group that escapes its wrath. The list of commonly abused illegal substances is endless. Just when we think we have put the lid on one specific sort of abuse, another rears its ugly head.

Any attempt to comprehensively list every drug that is currently abused is futile. There are simply too many. However, some are more commonly used. A cursory Google search will yield tens, if not hundreds, of articles mentioning these most common drugs. Every day they are causing another tragic overdose, eliciting FBI drug stings, or are the centerpiece of a policy conversation on Capitol Hill or other halls of government.

What Are The 5 Most Common Drugs in the USA?

You’ve heard all the names of America's most popular drugs. Alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and increasingly in the last number of years, the new number one killer, fentanyl, are all the most common drugs in the U.S. These substances comprise the list of the Top Five most abused drugs affecting Americans. Five substances at the head of the snake, headliners of the menace freely ravaging American society. Some of these substances are most commonly abused on college campuses and high schools, systematically decimating our teenagers as they come of age. Others of these most popular drugs are found more often in the professional ranks, and others take center stage in our urban areas. But none of them are limited just to their primary prey. They all kill everywhere. Every demographic is affected, and their victims live in every area of the country and reside in every financial bracket.

What follows here is a short breakdown of the most common drugs in the US, which include each of these five drug killers. Again, there are many more. Sadly, we can expand this list to the Top 10 most common drugs affecting Americans and even the Top 15 or 20, without breaking a sweat. For the sake of brevity, we have limited our discussion on this page to these five most abused drugs in the US. Should you need more information on commonly abused drugs not listed in this particular article, please refer to our resource center. You will find other narcotics and their effects discussed and explained at length.

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1. Alcohol

What is the most used drug in the US? Alcohol. Perhaps because it is a socially accepted activity as well as legal, it is often not perceived as a drug being abused. However, the reality is that drinking is addictive and dangerous. Currently, alcohol is considered the most abused drug in the US.

Using their new Alcohol-Related Disease Impact application (ARDI), the CDC estimates over 140,000 American deaths annually, due to excessive alcohol use. That translates to over 380 fatalities daily. There is a tremendous financial cost associated with alcohol abuse as well. Estimates put the financial burden (much of which comes from the increasing prevalence of binge drinking) on US taxpayers stemming from Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) in the US at 249 billion dollars.

Data from the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health pegged the number of people with AUD in the US at close to 15 million. Nearly half a million of those are adolescents (youths aged 12 to 17). This makes alcohol the number one drug used by teens in the US. Perhaps most disheartening of all is that not even 10 percent of the millions struggling with alcohol abuse are even receiving treatment.   

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2. Marijuana

It has become popular to dismiss the dangers of marijuana use in America. Although there are beneficial medicinal and painkilling attributes to the substance known on our streets as pot or weed, dismissing the dangers of freely consuming it is foolhardy. Marijuana may be a soft drug, but its use carries a host of harmful consequences as well as serving as an addiction gateway to harder and fatality-inducing drugs.  It can significantly affect brain functions like memory, learning, and decision-making, most notably and most commonly in young children and teenagers.  Long-term marijuana use has also been linked by credible research to crippling mental disorders such as schizophrenia and psychosis. The prevalence of fentanyl in weed adds a serious danger to using marijuana sourced illegally.

Per the CDC, almost 50 million people used weed at least once in 2019 [1], making it the unfortunate answer to the often-asked question: What is the most commonly abused illegal drug in the US? Other research showed that in every group of ten people using marijuana, three of them develop marijuana use disorder. For youth who begin using before the age of 18, that percentage increases even more.

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3. Fentanyl

Long part of the wide-ranging painkiller addiction crisis in the United States, Fentanyl, in recent years, has become the headliner drug and chief opiate killer. In 2021, over 70,000 Americans lost their lives to fentanyl overdose, surpassing heroin as the most common drug overdose inducer. The drug is the number one cause of death in the demographic of US adults aged 18 to 45, according to Families Against Fentanyl, an organization dedicated to fighting the dangerous opioid.

4. Heroin

For many years, heroin was acknowledged as the number one most common drug killer in the United States. Although, as mentioned above, fentanyl overdose has overtaken it, heroin is still a very commonly used and abused substance and is still directly responsible for an overwhelming amount of addiction and overdose deaths. It has been called the most addictive substance in the world. The deadly substance killed at a rate seven times higher in 2020 than in 1999 [2], and over 20 percent of opioid fatalities were caused by heroin. There are several types of heroin and methods of ingesting it, including smoking black tar heroin which you can learn more about by reading our online resource.

5. Meth

Meth is another drug whose use has sharply risen over the last decade. The years between 2015 and 2019 saw a 43% rise in meth use and meth use disorder (MUD) increased by over 60 percentage points in that timeframe. Another very concerning data point seen in recent studies has been the growth in the diversity of users [3]. Until the last decade, meth was a drug commonly used among middle-aged white men and has been stereotyped as such. However, in the last decade, the use of meth has increased tenfold among the African American population and quadrupled in the 18 to 23 demographic across all ethnicities. 

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Dishonorable Mentions

Other commonly used drugs in the United States include:

  • Cocaine  (Coke/Crack)
  • Tobacco
  • Hallucinogens
  • Benzos
  • Inhalants

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What are the Most Common Drugs in the US - Conclusion

Unfortunately, the lists of Top 10 or Top 15 most commonly abused illegal substances in America have to be constantly revised and expanded each day.

Drug and alcohol addiction treatment is the first step to lessening the destruction these commonly used drugs are sowing in nearly every street corner in America. 

If you’re struggling with an addiction, know you are not alone. You can find support and help from those just like you, now enjoying a stable recovery. Call Avenues Recovery Center today to find out how you or your loved one can start their journey to recovery.

To discover fascinating and useful information about the most popular drugs, including when cocaine was removed from Coca-Cola and what the half-life of cocaine is, read our online resources.

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