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Top 10 Drugs of Abuse

About 23.9 million Americans over the age of 12 use illicit drugs, and the number of people abusing substances increases exponentially with the addition of alcohol and tobacco products.

Out of those who use some type of substance, 22.2 million are diagnosed with substance abuse or dependence. As these alcohol and drug abuse facts demonstrate, substance abuse and addiction remains a significant problem in the U.S.

What is Drug Abuse?

A drug or alcohol problem will look different in each person. Some people have a substance of choice, while others will abuse any available mood altering substance. There are also varied reasons for abusing a substance. Some people do so to dull negative feelings and emotions, which might be caused by a mental health condition. Other people feel peer pressure to use, and then find themselves unable to stop. The diversity of drug abuse symptoms can make it difficult for people to know how to stop drug abuse. You can learn more about the warning signs of drug abuse here.

Regardless of the initial reason for using a substance, drug and alcohol abuse or addiction can be very difficult to overcome without proper treatment. Drug Treatment and Rehab Centers (DTRC) provides proven treatment for substance abuse and addiction. You can talk to our Admissions team at (312) 300-6661 to learn more about our program.

Commonly Abused Substances

Any substance that alters a person’s mood has the potential to be abused by a person. Here is a list of the top 10 addictive substances that are most commonly abused, along with facts about drugs abuse.


Alcohol is the most commonly abused substance in America. Over half (52.1 percent) of the population over the age of 12 drinks, but not all of them would be defined as abusers. However, the rate of binge drinking and heavy drinking, behaviors that signify substance abuse and increase the risk of addiction, is still very high. About 23 percent of people 12 and older have engaged in binge drinking in the past month, and 6.5 percent are heavy drinkers.


When people think of drugs, tobacco is usually not on their list. However, the nicotine in cigarettes and other tobacco products can alter one’s mood and is additive. In fact, the American Heart Association lists nicotine addiction as one of the hardest to break. Nicotine is both a stimulant and a relaxant, triggering the release of various hormones and neurotransmitters that cause a psychoactive effect. About 26.7 percent of Americans aged 12 and older report being current tobacco users, which means they had a tobacco product in the past month.


Marijuana is the most commonly abused drug that is illegal under federal law. Many states have legalized the medical use of marijuana, and Washington and Colorado have legalized the personal use of the drug. About 79 percent of illicit drug users choose marijuana. Additionally, about 7.3 percent of Americans over the age of 12 have used marijuana in the past month, and 12.1 percent have used marijuana in the past year. These numbers are expected to rise as it becomes legal in more states.

Prescription Painkillers

Prescription drug use – and abuse – is increasing, and opioid painkillers are the most commonly abused prescription drug. About 4.8 percent of people aged 12 and older have abused painkillers in the past year, taking them for non-medical reasons. Crackdowns on access to painkiller medication abuse poses additional risks because many people who become addicted to opioid prescription drugs turn to heroin because it is cheaper and easier to obtain. Examples of opioid painkillers commonly abused include Vicodin and Percocet (hydrocodone products), and OxyContin (oxycodone).

Prescription Sedatives and Tranquilizers

Prescription sedatives such as benzodiazepines, and tranquilizers like barbiturates, are also widely abused. About 2.3 percent of Americans have abused tranquilizers in the past year, and 0.2 percent has abused sedatives. Examples of benzodiazepines are Xanax and Ativan, and Phenobarbital is an example of a barbiturate medication.


Over the past few years, cocaine abuse has been on a downward trend, but there are still 1.6 million current cocaine users, which is about 0.6 percent of the population, and 1.8 percent has used cocaine in the past year. A smaller percentage of people use crack, with only 0.4 percent of the population using it in the past year.

Prescription Stimulants

People are prescribed stimulants, such as Ritalin and Adderall, for ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), narcolepsy, and other conditions. These drugs are made from amphetamines and methylphenidate, giving these drugs a high risk of abuse. About 1.2 million people, or 0.5 percent of the population, use these drugs for non-medical purposes.


About 1.1 million people over the age of twelve, or 0.4 percent of the population, have used hallucinogens in the past month, and 1.7 percent has used a hallucinogen drug in the past year. Hallucinogen drugs include LSD, PCP, peyote, mescaline, psilocybin mushrooms, and Ecstasy (MDMA), with the most popular being Ecstasy, LSD, and PCP.


The abuse of heroin is on the rise, largely thanks to addiction to opioid pain medication, and an estimated 669,000 people have used heroin in the past year, which is 0.3 percent of the population. Some experts believe this number may be higher.


The prevalence of methamphetamine is dropping, although it is still a dangerous drug. It is highly addictive, with a high that can last 40 times as long as cocaine. Around 440,000 people are current users of meth, which is about 0.2 percent of the population, and 0.4 percent has used meth in the past year.

Drug Addiction Treatment at DTRC

The drugs abuse and addiction treatment program at DTRC utilizes state-of-the-art, evidence based biopsychosocial treatment modalities that include individual and group psychotherapy and complementary alternative therapeutic activities such as yoga, meditation, equine therapy, art therapy, and music therapy. We customize the program to each individual using a thorough assessment at admission. We also offer dual diagnosis treatment, which provides simultaneous help for all co-occurring conditions. You can learn more by calling our Admissions team at (312) 300-6661.

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