5 Most Commonly Used & Abused Drugs

Between the national opioid crisis and historically high instances of alcoholism, drug use, abuse, and addiction are common in nearly every city throughout the United States. It is estimated that in 2018 three percent of Americans over the age of 12 were struggling with a past year substance use disorder to one or more drugs. Three may seem like a small number, but this actually amounts to well over 8 million people. Also, keep in mind that this includes children who may not have even hit their teenage years yet. The abuse of some substances is significantly more common than others, but it varies by region. Local governments and leaders should look at what their community struggles with, but treatment can be highly effective when the patient travels from another city or state. For that reason, as a treatment facility, we look at drug use on a local and national level. The top 5 most commonly used drugs in America include medical marijuana, synthetic marijuana, opioids, stimulants, and depressants. 

Here is a quick look into the statistics around abuse and addiction to these 5 substances based off of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health:

Medical Marijuana

With a growing acceptance around the use of marijuana, many people think of it as a benign substance. However, recreational use of marijuana is still illicit in most of the country and marijuana use disorders affect about 1.6% of the U.S. population in 2018. That equates to about 4.4 million individuals over age 12 who meet the criteria for a marijuana use disorder and far exceeds other drugs. These numbers indicate that marijuana is possibly the most commonly used drug in America, aside from alcohol. Just as it can for other prescription medications, marijuana use disorders can develop in those using the substance for medical purposes. With limited regulation and easy accessibility, some may argue that states with legalized medical marijuana may even see higher rates of abuse and addiction. 

Synthetic Marijuana

Although many research groups combine rates of all marijuana use, it is important to distinguish between different types of marijuana. For instance, synthetic marijuana isn’t actually marijuana at all. More commonly known as spice or K2, synthetic marijuana is made by spraying plant material with a mixer of mind-altering chemicals. The substance is prepared with the intent to be smoked or vaporized to get high. It is also one of the most commonly used drugs. 


Estimating that 0.6% of the U.S. population struggles with prescription opioid addiction alone also correlates opioids as one of the top 5 most commonly used and abused drugs in America. A severe crisis that the country has been facing, about 1.7 million people over age 12 have a diagnosable prescription pain reliever use disorder and 526,000 people over age 12 have a diagnosable heroin use disorder. These numbers do not include the many other prescription opioids and illicit opioids that cause addiction, such as fentanyl.


In 2018, was estimates that just under 1 million people over the age of 12 had a cocaine use disorder within the past year. An additional 561,000 people were estimated to have struggled with a prescription stimulant use disorder. These numbers do not include all forms of stimulants, but they do push stimulants into the top 5 drugs most commonly used and abuse in America.


Not far behind the other substances discussed above, depressants also make this list. About 751,000 struggle with an addiction to depressants, including tranquilizers and sedatives. Although these medications do have their place in treating very real conditions, they should be used with caution and should not be abused. 

Getting Help

Many substances become a problem before much is known about their addictive properties and how to prevent or treat addiction to them. For this reason, expanding educational programs and access to treatment options is critical. Do not hesitate to reach out to our team for a Free Consultation and Insurance Verification. We are here to help you or your loved one through the recovery journey.

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