The Top 10 Most Abused Drugs in the U.S.

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As a whole, the United States has been suffering from a severe substance misuse problem for quite some time. Substance misuse and addiction affects individuals, families and communities across the country, leading to a range of devastating consequences. According to The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health, “Alcohol and drug misuse and related substance use disorders affect millions of Americans and impose enormous costs on our society. In 2015, 66.7 million people in the United States reported binge drinking in the past month and 27.1 million people were current users of illicit drugs or misused prescription drugs. The most devastating consequences are seen in the tens of thousands of lives that are lost each year as a result of substance misuse. Alcohol misuse contributes to 88,000 deaths in the United States each year; 1 in 10 deaths among working adults are due to alcohol misuse. In addition, in 2014 there were 47,055 drug overdose deaths including 28,647 people who died from a drug overdose involving some type of opioid, including prescription pain relievers and heroin—more than in any previous year on record.”

Unfortunately, the majority of people who are in desperate need of professional treatment services fail to seek the help they need. This is not because help is unavailable or inaccessible — in most cases, it is simply because a person doesn’t know where to look or how to get started.

At Guardian Recovery Center we have helped countless individuals overcome substance use disorders and go on to lead the happy, healthy and fulfilling lives they deserve. Our multi-staged program of addiction recovery is both effective and individualized. We take the unique clinical needs of each client into careful account. If you or someone you love has been struggling with an addictive disorder of any type of severity, we are available to help. Contact us today to learn more about our program of drug addiction recovery.

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The Scope of Drug Abuse in the U.S.

While new chemical substances have led to slight deviations in annual substance use trends, rates of addiction throughout the U.S. have remained somewhat consistent for the past decade. Rates of opioid use continue to climb, and as a direct result the rates of opioid overdose have also been on the rise. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “There were an estimated 93,331 drug overdose deaths in the United States during 2020, an increase of 29.4% from the 72,151 deaths predicted in 2019. New data documents that estimated overdose deaths from opioids increased from 50,963 in 2019 to 69,710 in 2020. Overdose deaths from synthetic opioids (primarily fentanyl) and psychostimulants such as methamphetamine also increased in 2020 compared to 2019. Cocaine deaths also increased in 2020, as did deaths from natural and semi-synthetic opioids (such as prescription pain medication).”

In addition to increasing rates of drug overdose throughout the U.S., rates of alcohol addiction have been on the rise. The National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism states 14.5 million people over the age of 12 suffer from a diagnosable alcohol use disorder. If you or someone you love has been struggling with an addictive disorder of any kind, Guardian Recovery is available to help. Contact us today to learn more.

Which Drugs Are Most Frequently Abused?

Which addictive drugs are most frequently abused? There are 10 chemical substances which are abused more than any others in the country — alcohol, marijuana, painkillers, cocaine, heroin, benzodiazepines, prescription stimulants, methamphetamine, inhalants and barbiturates. Drug addiction can happen to anyone, regardless of their demographic, personal background, age or gender. If you have been struggling with an addictive disorder of any type or severity, there is help available and recovery is always possible.

#1. Alcohol Abuse & Addiction

Nearly 15 million Americans over the age of 15 suffer from a diagnosable alcohol use disorder, making alcohol misuse and dependence one of the most significant substance-related problems in the U.S. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism states, “An estimated 95,000 people (approximately 68,000 men and 27,000 women) die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the third-leading preventable cause of death in the United States.” Many people overlook the seriousness of alcohol misuse, seeing as this particular substance is so widely used and socially acceptable. However, alcohol is pervasive and destructive, and is responsible for thousands of untimely deaths on an annual basis.

#2. Marijuana Abuse & Addiction

Marijuana is widely deemed as a safe and non-addictive substance, and is used recreationally by millions of Americans. However, according to the National Institutes of Health, diagnosable marijuana use disorder affects nearly 6 million Americans on an annual basis. A person who suffers from marijuana use disorder has a difficult time stopping without help, experiences a range of withdrawal symptoms when use is stopped abruptly, and feels anxious and uncomfortable when marijuana is unavailable.

#3. Painkiller Abuse & Addiction

According to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an estimated 2 million Americans misused prescription pain relievers for the first time within the past year, and rates of painkiller misuse and dependence have been on the rise in the U.S. since the mid-1990s. The most commonly misused prescription painkillers include oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine and codeine. Most commonly prescribed for the short-term treatment of moderate or severe pain, opioid painkillers are highly addictive and are among the most commonly abused drugs in the country.

#4. Cocaine Abuse & Addiction

Rates of cocaine use have been relatively stable throughout the U.S. since 2007. This highly addictive illegal drug remains one of the most commonly misused in the country. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, rates of cocaine use are highest among young adults between the ages of 18 and 25. NIDA also states, “In 2014, according to the NSDUH, about 913,000 Americans met the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders criteria for dependence or abuse of cocaine (in any form) during the past 12 months. Further, data from the 2011 Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) report showed that cocaine was involved in 505,224 of the nearly 1.3 million visits to emergency departments for drug misuse or abuse. This translates to over one in three drug misuse or abuse-related emergency department visits (40 percent) that involved cocaine.”

#5. Heroin Abuse & Addiction

Rates of heroin use have been on the rise throughout the U.S. since 2007, and rates of heroin-related overdose death have also been increasing. According to the National Institutes on Drug Abuse, “The impact of heroin use is felt all across the United States, with heroin being identified as the most or one of the most important drug use issues affecting several local regions from coast to coast.” Heroin addiction does not discriminate and individuals, families and communities across the country are being deeply and negatively impacted by this highly addictive, illegal drug.

#6. Benzodiazepine Abuse & Addiction

Benzodiazepines are a type of prescription medication most commonly used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders. Commonly prescribed brand name benzodiazepines include Xanax, Ativan and Klonopin. In addition to being widely prescribed, benzodiazepines are also highly addictive. In 2019 it was reported that 16 percent of all recorded opioid overdose deaths also involved a benzodiazepine medication.

#7. Prescription Stimulant Abuse & Addiction

Prescription stimulant drugs like Adderall and Ritalin are most commonly prescribed to treat attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder in adolescents and young adults, and are frequently misused by college students in order to increase alertness and productivity. Prescription stimulants increase the amount of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain, leading to feelings of pleasure and euphoria and reinforcing drug seeking behaviors. Many individuals who misuse prescription stimulants obtain the medication from a friend or relative.

#8. Methamphetamine Abuse & Addiction

According to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, roughly 1.6 million Americans reported using methamphetamine at least once over the course of the past year. An estimated 964,000 people over the age of 12 suffered from a diagnosable methamphetamine use disorder. Meth is an illegal and highly addictive drug, which can lead to physical and psychological dependence after the first use.

#9. Inhalant Abuse & Addiction

More than 22 million Americans over the age of 12 have used inhalants at least once over the course of their lives. Every year, more than 750,000 individuals use inhalants for the first time. A study published by the US National Library of Medicine states, “Inhalant abuse refers to the intentional inhalation of vapors from commercial products or specific chemical agents to achieve intoxication. Abusers may inhale vapors directly from a container, from a bag into which a substance has been placed, or from a rag soaked with a substance and then placed over the mouth or nose.” Inhalant misuse and addiction is often referred to as a “forgotten epidemic,” because it is rarely discussed but still affects so many.

#10. Barbiturate Abuse & Addiction

While the use of barbiturate medications has been largely replaced by the use of benzodiazepines, barbiturates like amobarbital, pentobarbital and phenobarbital are still among the top 10 most commonly used addictive drugs in the country. Barbiturates are most commonly used to treat moderate or severe anxiety disorders and sleep disorders like insomnia. While most typically ingested in pill form, barbiturates can also be injected directly into the bloodstream.

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How to Get Help for Substance Use Disorders

If you have been struggling with a substance use disorder of any kind, you might be wondering what steps to take to get the help you need to recover. In most cases, overcoming addiction and committing to a life of recovery is as simple as taking the initial step — admitting you have a problem that needs addressing and reaching out for help. At Guardian Recovery we are always available to help guide you through the process of receiving the professional help you need. Contact us to get started.

Treatment Options for Drug Addiction Recovery

If you have been struggling with a substance use disorder, what treatment options ensure success in sobriety? As is the case with anything in life, you will get out of your treatment experience the amount of effort you put in. Of course, the goal is to undergo addiction treatment once. With this in mind, we recommend committing to an integrated and multi-phased treatment program, which allows for deep, personal healing and for adequate focus on all underlying issues.

At Guardian Recovery we recommend taking the following steps:

  • Medically Monitored Detox – In medical detox you will undergo a safe and pain-free drug and/or alcohol withdrawal under the close supervision of a team of medical professionals. While you are in medical detox, your case manager works with the clinical and medical team to devise a personalized aftercare plan, which almost always includes a transition into the next appropriate level of clinical care.
  • Residential Inpatient Rehab – Residential rehab typically lasts for between 30 and 90 days, and includes intensive individual and group therapy, holistic treatment methods, and in some cases, a thorough introduction to the 12 Step model of recovery.
  • Partial Hospitalization (PHP) – PHP is one small step down from residential rehab in the sense that clients are able to return home every evening. Partial hospitalization programs usually meet between 5 and 7 days a week for around 8 hours every day, and are a good option for those who are looking for a more cost-effective treatment option.
  • Intensive Outpatient Treatment (IOP) – Intensive outpatient is one more step down from residential rehab and allows for a higher level of personal freedom. Clients meet for between 3 and 4 days a week for several hours each day, allowing them to fulfill personal obligations outside of treatment.
  • Sober Living and Aftercare – Many people opt to transition from residential rehab directly into a sober living home, where they live for several months. Sober living provides increased structure and accountability to those who are in early recovery. If you do make the decision to move into a sober living house, you will focus on reintegrating into society as you stick to your personalized aftercare plan. Aftercare might include individual therapy and continued involvement in a recovery-based peer support group.

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The moment you make the decision to reach out for help you will be put in touch with one of our compassionate Treatment Advisors, who will walk you through our simple and straightforward admissions process. The majority of our Treatment Advisors have been through the process themselves or have helped a loved one through the process, allowing them a unique and compassionate perspective. During our initial phone call we provide a brief pre-assessment which helps us determine which level of care is going to be the best fit. We offer a free, no obligation insurance benefit check to those who are currently insured and offer additional coverage options to those who are not. At Guardian Recovery one of our main priorities is ensuring effective treatment options remain readily available to those in need. No matter what type of chemical substance you or your loved one has been using, we have the ability to develop an effective and individualized treatment program which caters to all of your unique clinical needs. Simply pick up the phone or contact us directly through our website, and we will take care of the rest.


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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave


Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

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Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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