Drug use is pervasive in the United States. Not all of it is illegal or dangerous. For example, it’s impossible to drive past a gas station without seeing advertisements for cigarettes. Nor can you turn on the television without seeing beer commercials. Harder drugs may not be advertised so blatantly, but their use is responsible for numerous addictions and deaths every year. A common question about drug use is, “What is the most commonly abused drug in the US?” The answer is alcohol. Learn more about the implications of alcohol being the most abused drug in the US and what other drugs make up the top 10 below.
10 Most Abused Drugs in the US
Much of drug use remains hidden and are impossible to track. However, based on the best data available from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, we know that the top 10 most abused drugs in the US are, in order:
- Prescription drugs
The top five drugs from this list of the most commonly abused drugs in the US are explored in more detail below:
Nearly 150 million people use alcohol. That means over half the US population identifies as regular consumers of alcohol. About half of the people who drink regularly abuse alcohol. This makes alcohol the most abused drug in the US. Alcohol abuse is defined as binge drinking, heavy drinking, and underage drinking. Binge drinking is the most common type of alcohol abuse. In addition, it’s estimated that more than 80% of people who drink had their first drink before the legal drinking age of 21.
As many as 70 million Americans age 12 and up use tobacco products. Cigarette use is highest among people in their early twenties. E-cigarette and vape pen usage is also of concern among teens and young adults. Kids aged 12–17 who use tobacco products also tend to use other illicit drugs at much higher rates than their peers.
Millions of Americans use marijuana, the majority of whom remain in states where marijuana has yet to be decriminalized. Still, usage rates for marijuana compared to alcohol or tobacco see a sharp drop-off. Nonetheless, where it is not yet legal, marijuana is the most abused illicit drug. This is particularly true among young adults in high school or college. Some 18 million people abuse marijuana on an annual basis. Despite its perception as a safer drug, data indicates that marijuana may account for over half of the noted cases of drug dependence and addiction across the US.
Prescription drugs, especially opioids, have seen a sharp uptick in abuse rates in the 21st century. Painkillers like Oxycontin and Vicodin have become the most abused prescription drug currently on the market. Some areas of the country are beginning to see the very worst impacts of the opioid crisis. Much work remains to be done in order to solve a problem whose roots can largely be traced back to bad actors in the medical community and pharmaceutical industry. While these drugs have acquired a negative perception for good reason, they do continue to have medical merit when used appropriately and prescribed with caution. Estimates indicate a few million people abuse prescription opioids in a given year.
Benzos are a type of drug used in treating anxiety disorders and sleep problems. It is classified as a tranquilizer. Xanax is a common type of benzo. Approximately two million people nationwide abuse benzos.
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