Most Commonly Abused Drugs

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What are the most commonly abused drugs? This is a frequent question people have. We’re at a time when drugs of abuse and addiction have become not only problematic in terms of the effects of addiction, but also the overdose risks they create.

Learning about some of the most commonly abused drugs, and some of the substances that are most addictive can help people who are struggling with those substances. Drug guides and resources can also be useful for the loved ones of addicts.

The most commonly abused drugs are ones that have not only addiction potential, but psychoactive properties. This include the most commonly abused prescription drugs and illegal drugs.

Psychoactive properties mean these substances change how someone using them thinks or behaves.

Not all commonly abused substances and drugs are illegal. Some are available by prescription. Prescription drugs, and in particular opioids, have actually become some of the deadliest substances in the United States through the onset of the opioid epidemic.

What Are the Most Commonly Abused Drugs?

The following are some of the categories of drugs of abuse that are most commonly utilized in the U.S.


Alcohol is something that’s become part of our culture and celebrations in the U.S., and around the world. People can often casually drink without it becoming a serious problem, but some people do become addicted and struggle with alcoholism. Alcoholism is also known as alcohol use disorder.


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Benzodiazepines are central nervous system depressants, available by prescription. One of the most frequently prescribed benzodiazepines is Xanax. This drug class is used to treat short-term symptoms of anxiety, panic disorders, and insomnia. Benzodiazepines also have the potential to be habit-forming, particularly when they’re used for more than a few weeks.


Cocaine is a stimulant drug, and it’s derived from the leaves of a plant native to South America. When someone uses cocaine, it causes a rush of energy, euphoria, and feelings of confidence. Cocaine also has many negative effects. The use of this stimulant drug can cause addiction, as well as severe cardiac symptoms and even sudden death.


While many of the most abused opioids are prescription pain medications, heroin is an opioid not available legally. Heroin has effects similar to morphine, and it’s a naturally-derived opioid. Heroin is often injected into the bloodstream, and it creates a sense of relaxation and euphoria. Unfortunately, heroin also slows breathing and other essential functions, which can cause a fatal overdose.


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Marijuana is a substance that is met with controversy in many ways. A lot of states have moved to make it legal not only for medical purposes but also recreationally. However, it’s still illegal federally and some critics do feel there is an abuse and addiction potential that occurs with marijuana.


Methamphetamine is a powerful, highly addictive stimulant drug. It can be sold illegally as a white powder or by prescription as a pill. Methamphetamine can also come in chunks that look like glass or blue-white rocks. This is known as crystal meth.

Prescription Opioids

Prescription opioids are especially problematic in the U.S. right now. Since the 1990s there has been a surge in the prescribing of these medications. In recent decades, the result has been a tremendous increase in addiction disorders as well as overdose deaths. Prescription opioids may be effective at relieving pain, but their addiction potential and the side effects are similar to heroin.

Prescription Stimulants

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Prescription stimulants are often used to treat ADHD symptoms, but they’re also abused recreationally. Prescription stimulants include brand-name drugs like Adderall, Concerta, and Ritalin. These drugs can have side effects similar to cocaine. For example, they can increase energy, attention, sociability, blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing. They also have addiction potential. Learn more about the above substances as well as other substances that have an abuse or addiction potential on My Addiction Info. Each of our drug guides offers comprehensive information on these substances. We also offer important drug statistics, and news on topics such as addiction treatment and recovery, overdoses, and other similar stories.

Why Do People Abuse Drugs?

Along with understanding the most commonly abused drugs including the most commonly abused prescription drugs, what do people abuse substances? Unfortunately there are misconceptions people have about drug abuse and addiction.

For example, one misconception is that people abuse drugs because they don’t have morals. Another is that they are somehow weak. Neither of these is true.

Addiction and experience with the most commonly abused drugs is complex. It’s related to many factors including the brain’s structure and chemical makeup, environmental factors and experiences, and biological factors. Some people may use the most commonly abused drugs featured in our drug guides and never become addicted while others may become addicted to certain substances very quickly.

Preventing or Curing Drug Addiction

Along with wondering about the most commonly abused drugs, people also tend to ask whether addiction can be prevented or cured. While there isn’t a cure for addiction, as is the case with other chronic diseases, it can be treated and managed. As far as prevention, this ultimately relies on trying to avoid substance abuse altogether.

According to the U.S. government, the following are some things to remember about the most commonly abused drugs and drug addiction:

  • Drug addiction is a chronic disease
  • Addiction is characterized by compulsive (out-of-control) drug seeking behaviors and drug use, in spite of negative consequences
  • The most commonly abused drugs in the U.S. are not only illegal drugs, but also prescription drugs such as opioid pain medications
  • When someone’s brain is exposed to substances it changes the chemical function and the structure of the brain over time
  • The most commonly abused drugs and substances like alcohol affect the brain’s reward pathways and they cause surges of dopamine, which is how addiction develops
  • There’s not one factor or determinant in particular that determines whether a person becomes addicted to drugs or not
  • While there isn’t a cure, addiction can be treated and managed
  • There are ways to prevent addiction, and parents, health care providers and teachers can all play a role in prevention efforts