Drugs are everywhere in our society, what are the most commonly abused drugs both legal and otherwise. The use of drugs in abusive ways is one of the most serious social problems in modern society. While any drug can be abused when used improperly, some drugs are more commonly abused than others, with an important factor being whether or not a drug is legal. Surprisingly, it is the legal drugs that are the most widely abused. Here is a list of the top ten most commonly abused drugs in the United States and the number who use them:
Ironically, the most abused drug in the United States is a completely legal one. About 52 percent of Americans drink alcohol, although most do so responsibly and without their alcohol use causing problems. However, for about 7% of the population, alcohol use becomes excessive. That means that nearly 17 million Americans have developed drinking habits that interfere with their ability to live normal lives. Alcohol abuse is linked to a wide range of medical diseases and psychological problems, making it the number one drug problem in America today.
The second most commonly abused drug is also a legal one. 45 million Americans smoke tobacco based products in order to obtain a minor buzz that increases alertness and raises energy levels. Tobacco is also linked to a wide array of health problems, in particular lung and heart diseases as well as several forms of cancer. Tobacco also contains nicotine, which is so highly addictive that many former users of both tobacco and heroin have reported that the tobacco was harder to give up than the heroin.
Next to alcohol and tobacco, marijuana is the third most widely used drug in America. It is technically illegal under federal law, but the degree of illegality varies greatly from state to state, with some states like Alaska, Colorado and Washington having removed virtually all restrictions and punishments. There are an estimated 14 million Americans who use marijuana, with the number of estimated abusers varying based on one’s definition of abuse. Since it is illegal, some people such as law enforcement consider all use of marijuana to be abusive. Others argue that marijuana use is only abusive if it interferes with your everyday functioning.
4. Prescription Drugs
The fastest growing category of drug abuse is prescription drugs. Once again, we are dealing primarily with legal drugs. These are drugs that have been prescribed by doctors to treat legitimate medical conditions, but which are then misused for recreational purposes. It is estimated that around 7 million Americans abuse prescription drugs each year, which they have obtained either from a doctor or through the black market. There is an almost endless list of prescription drugs that lend themselves to abuse, but the most commonly abused are painkillers, making up two-thirds of all improperly used prescription drugs.
About two million Americans use cocaine, a powerful euphoria producing drug that can create strong psychological dependence. Peaking in popularity in the 1980’s, cocaine use has stabilized in recent years. However, the most powerful form of the drug, so-called “crack cocaine” is still a major abuse problem, especially in America’s inner-cities.
The inhalation of toxic vapors to get high had a brief heyday in the 1950’s, but quickly fell out of favor as evidence mounted of its negative side effects. The sniffing of paint, cleaning fluids, gasoline and glue are just some of the substances used, with side effects ranging from nausea, respiratory problems and even brain damage. There are no reliable figures on how many people use inhalants, but estimates range up to 1.5 million, with most believed to be children who don’t have access to any other means of getting high.
“Ecstasy” is actually the commercial or street name of the drug MDMA. It was briefly popular in the 1960’s, then faded, only to be revived by the “rave” dance culture of the 1990’s. It is often lumped in with the hallucinogenic drugs, although it usually produces only mild effects. With about a million regular users, it is hard to find in pure form. Therefore, the real risks of the drug are the potential impurities one may consume. Some testing has shown that as much as 65% of Ecstasy pills are impure.
Hallucinogens are any drug capable of producing hallucinations, a group that includes the mild Ecstasy on one end and the powerful LSD on the other. Other hallucinogenic drugs include peyote, PCP and certain mushrooms. Hallucinogens use is not linked to any adverse medical conditions, with no known fatal overdose level. However, they can be a cause of severe psychological distress, sometimes requiring long term hospitalization. There are an estimated one million users of hallucinogens in the United States, with the users often attached to the cultural scenes surrounding “acid rock” musical groups and the modern versions of the 1960’s counterculture.
Despite its notorious reputation that “speed kills,” various forms of methamphetamine have been consistently popular since the 1950’s. Its euphoric, high energy effects make it extremely addictive, and users will often persist in taking it even after serious physical and psychological side effects occur. There is currently a resurgence in the use of speed, with an estimated 700,000 users nationwide.
Heroin is a highly addictive opiate that is often regarded as the most dangerous of all illegal drugs. There are believed to less than 200,000 addicts nationwide, but the tendency of the drug to drive its users to extremes of crime in order to obtain it gives it a disproportionately high social cost.
Where are people getting all these commonly abused drugs? 56% percent say they get them from a friend or family member, while 20% get them from a doctor. The rest obtain them from street dealers or other sources such as the internet. But wherever they come from, there is never a shortage of types of drugs to be abused.