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Most Commonly Used Addictive Drugs In The U.S.

Man puts hands up against mirror, struggling with doing some of the most addictive drugs in the us

Millions of people struggle with drug use each year. But what are the most commonly used addictive drugs in the U.S.? Understanding the most abused drugs in the U.S. can help prepare individuals for treatment. They can then identify the type of treatment best suited for each type of addiction, identify addiction and dependence issues and seek a program that will address each person’s individual needs.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance misuse, our substance abuse treatment center can help. Contact Vertava Health at 844.470.0410 today to learn more about addictive substances.

Most Commonly Used Addictive Drugs In The U.S.

So what are the most commonly used addictive drugs in the U.S.? The most commonly abused substances are:

  • Alcohol
  • Cocaine
  • Hallucinogens
  • Heroin
  • Inhalants
  • Marijuana
  • Methamphetamine
  • MDMA
  • Prescription opioids
  • Sedatives
  • Stimulants
  • Tobacco
  • Tanquilizers

To understand both what makes a certain drug addictive requires an understanding of how addiction form. Due to the nature of drugs, their chemical makeup and how they affect the brain and body, different drugs will prompt different reactions for people who use them and will vary in the ability to cause addiction or dependence.

Addiction vs. Dependence

Addiction is a psychological reliance on a substance or an act (such as gambling). Because addiction can result from repeated use of a substance or repeated participation in an activity, addiction is a disease of the mind. It is not to be confused with physical dependence, which affects the body and mind quite differently. Essentially, an addiction happens when a person does something repeatedly (such as using a drug) and experiences pleasure from it. This changes the way the brain feels about pleasure, rewiring it to be happy only when the pleasurable activity occurs (drug use). After a time, a person relies on this activity for happiness and the brain is actually changed to believe it cannot experience happiness without it. Physical dependence, also called chemical dependency, occurs when a person becomes addicted to a substance and the body becomes convinced it cannot function without the drug. When this happens, a person will experience uncomfortable, even painful, withdrawal symptoms when they try to stop using. In fact, withdrawal is often responsible for continued drug use, as people try to avoid going through this harrowing process. In truth, any drug could become addicting if a person uses it enough, forms a habit of use and comes to rely on it for happiness, peace of mind or other factors. For example, some people may begin abusing substances to self-medicate the symptoms of a mental health disorder or other chronic illness. Used in this way, people may have a hard time recognizing or admitting they have a substance use disorder. However, only a handful of drugs can cause physical dependence:

  • Alcohol
  • Barbiturates
  • Benzodiazepines,
  • Opioids

For this reason, these drugs are often viewed as the most addictive drugs, because a person with dependence also has an addiction. A person with an addiction is not necessarily dependent on a drug. Dependence is extremely hard to overcome alone, and severe addictions (such as ones that have lasted for months or years) may also be hard to overcome. Fortunately, many treatment options exist to help people best drug addiction and dependence issues.

What Factors Affect Drug Use?

Any person can struggle with drug use, as addiction affects people from every demographic. Age, socioeconomic factors, and racial differences do not exclude anyone from the impact of drug use, but research shows certain groups will be affected by drug use more than others. Risk factors which affect a person’s likelihood to use drugs include the availability of the substance, age, whether the person has a co-occurring mental health disorder and income level.


The degree of availability may greatly affect a person’s tendency to use the drug. Quite often, drug use begins as misuse of prescription drugs, such as opioids. Drug use in this manner is not always intentional, and once a person becomes addicted to a prescription, stopping use may be difficult, especially if the person readily has access to the drug. History shows that the more available and legal a substance, the more it may be used.


While no drug of use is exclusive to a certain age group, research shows certain age groups may be more at risk for abusing particular drugs of use due to factors associated with their age. For instance, older persons are more likely to have issues related to pain, obtain a prescription for an opioid painkiller and fall victim to use of the drugs. Conversely, young teens may have ready access to certain drugs available in their area.

Co-Occurring Mental Health Disorders

Millions of Americans have both a substance use disorder and mental health disorder. This is a condition referred to as a co-occurring disorder or dual diagnosis. People with a mental health disorder may be at higher risk for developing a substance use disorder because they may turn to drugs or alcohol to cope or in an attempt to alleviate symptoms of their mental disorder. Further, having both disorders at the same time may make a person more likely to stay caught in a cycle of addiction. Having a substance use disorder may aggravate a mental disorder and vice versa, so it’s important that people struggling with these conditions seek proper co-occurring disorder treatment for both illnesses at the same time.

Discover Treatment for Drug Use at Vertava Health

Treating a person who struggles with an addiction to or dependence on one of the most addictive drugs in the U.S. may be a delicate process, but it’s a worthy one. Contact Vertava Health at 844.470.0410 today to learn more about healthy life skills and stress management technique.