What Drugs Are Most Commonly Used

What Drugs Are Most Commonly Used

While drug abuse can lead to devastating consequences in situations of addiction, our culture currently normalizes high levels of casual and medicinal drug use. It’s important to never use highly addictive substances without a prescription and to apply strict moderation to social alcohol consumption. For a picture of just how institutionalized drugs are in American culture, look at these stats from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

What Drugs are Most Commonly Used

The two most common and accepted drugs in America have always been alcohol and tobacco, with exceedingly high rates of use. However, other drugs see shifting prominence and consumption as the years go by, with cocaine becoming less common and marijuana supplanting it as the third most-used drug.


The majority of Americans over the age of 12 use alcohol each year, with current statistics indicating figures around 69%. This is because of the normalization of alcohol in our culture, as well as the expectation of drinking in social settings. Of these people, 24% of adults reported binge drinking in the past month during a separate survey.


While rates of smoking have fallen, it remains prominent and some 60% of Americans have tried it at some point in their life. What’s particularly worrisome is that tobacco use is back on the rise among young people due to the popularity of vaping.


Marijuana has risen above the other non-alcohol, non-tobacco drugs to becoming the third most commonly-tried drug in America. This comes as a consequence of widespread legalization, which has made using cannabis more socially acceptable besides eliminating criminal consequences.


As of 2020, 14% of adults reported trying cocaine at some point in their lifetime. Ever since cheap, highly potent crack cocaine hit the inner cities in the 80s, cocaine has been a major feature of the American drug abuse epidemic. It’s intensely addictive and has ruined many lives, but cocaine abuse rates are slowly dropping.


Inhalants are toxic, volatile substances that can persist in the brain and body for long periods of time after use. Almost 10% of American teenagers and adults reported trying inhalants at some point as of 2020, which is a higher figure than in past years.

Prescription Painkillers

More than 3% of Americans reported using opioid painkillers in the past year in 2020, and most used them with a prescription. Prescribing painkillers became increasingly common around the turn of the century, which revealed that even modest levels of long-term use can create dependency. Many people faithfully take their painkillers as prescribed, only to find out they have an addiction once they try to stop. Another 2% of Americans reported using heroin, the most popular illicit opioid at some point in their life.


Barbiturates are typically used as sleep aids and allergy medications, and they may seem like unlikely culprits for drug abuse. Fewer than 1% of Americans consumed barbiturates in 2020, and a small subsection of these engaged in abusive consumption of high doses to achieve hallucinatory effects. Abusing barbiturates to this extent can be fatal, and both the come-down and the high are considered deeply unpleasant. Furthermore, these drugs can become addictive with chronic use.

You can learn more about drug addiction and treatment by following the Hickory Treatment Centers blog. If you or a loved one is struggling with substances call us today to speak to one of our trained professionals.

Close up on a bike with helmet smiling

If you have tried to stop using alcohol or drugs on your own, you may feel that sobriety and clean living seem far away. However, with the help of caring staff members and a safe, structured environment, you can receive the guidance you need to fight cravings and regain control of your life.

Contact us today to schedule an appointment with our admission staff or learn more about our healing programs.