The Most Abused Drug in America

Table of Contents

Any guesses as to what the most commonly used and abused drug in America is? If you’re thinking cannabis or marijuana, you’re correct. Marijuana is the most widely used drug in the country. About 28 million Americans report smoking the drug each year. Plus, 47 million American adults have admitted to consuming marijuana in their lives and 52 million have admitted to consuming cannabis in their lives. That’s a lot of people – and these numbers dwarf reported drug abuse across other categories. For example, only about half a million Americans report taking methamphetamine – and less than 300,000 report taking heroin. Of the 28 million Americans who have reported smoking marijuana in the past year, about 30% are estimated to suffer from drug abuse. Using a substance and drug abuse are two different things. Even if only 30% of the 28 million Americans abuse the drug, it would still be the most widely abused drug in the US. Prescription drugs are also a problem in the US, let’s discuss that below.

Are Prescription Drugs widely abused in America?

Prescription drugs are indeed widely abused in America, marking them as one of the most abused drugs in the nation. This growing issue affects millions annually, highlighting the urgent need for awareness and intervention. The ease of access to prescription medications contributes significantly to their misuse, positioning them as a leading concern for public health professionals. With prescription drug abuse being second only to marijuana, it underscores the critical importance of addressing this epidemic. As efforts to combat the misuse of prescription drugs continue, it becomes clear that comprehensive strategies are essential to curb what has become the most abused drug category, surpassing even the likes of cocaine in its reach and impact on American society.

Are enough Americans getting help?

While it’s encouraging to see increased recognition of addiction among Americans, the harsh reality remains that not enough individuals are seeking the help they need for substance abuse, particularly with prescription medications, often cited as the most abused drug.

With over 23 million adults in the United States reporting a Substance Use Disorder (SUD), the gap between those acknowledging their addiction to these widely misused substances and those actively pursuing recovery is alarmingly wide. The prevalence of prescription drug misuse further emphasizes the urgency of this issue. Shockingly, only 25% of these individuals have sought treatment in specialized facilities for their addiction, leaving a staggering 75% of those suffering from SUD, including those with an addiction to the most abused drug, without proper intervention.

This underutilization of available resources highlights a critical need for enhanced outreach and support services to ensure that more Americans can access the vital treatment necessary for overcoming addiction to prescription drugs, among others. Bridging this gap is essential for tackling the nation’s ongoing struggle with drug abuse, especially concerning the most abused drug, and ensuring that more individuals receive the help they desperately need.

Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder (SUD)

Mental illness plays a pivotal role in the context of drug addiction, particularly when discussing the most abused drugs in society. Mental health issues often lead individuals to self-medicate with substances, inadvertently contributing to the cycle of addiction. This phenomenon, known as dual diagnosis, highlights the intersection between mental health disorders and Substance Use Disorder (SUD), underscoring the complexity of treating individuals afflicted with both conditions.

It is essential to address both the addiction and the underlying mental health condition to ensure a holistic and effective recovery process. Notably, prescription drugs, often labeled as the most abused drug category, frequently intersect with cases of mental illness, where individuals seek relief from psychiatric symptoms through misuse. The challenge lies in adequately diagnosing and treating dual-diagnosis patients, which requires an integrated approach to therapy that considers the intricate relationship between mental health and addiction to the most abused drugs.

By prioritizing comprehensive care strategies, healthcare professionals can better support individuals on their journey to recovery, mitigating the risks associated with the misuse of prescription medications and other substances. This comprehensive approach is vital in breaking the cycle of addiction and promoting long-term wellness among those battling the dual challenges of SUD and mental illness.

The US Leads the World in Prescription Drug Use

Unfortunately, the US is a hotbed for substance abuse and addiction. Our nation is not only afflicted by untreated substance use but also untreated and undiagnosed mental health conditions. This is unacceptable. We must treat addiction AND mental health with care. Those with addiction and mental health issues are likely to thrive once they’ve gotten the help they need. With some care, they will return to lives full of hope, well-being, and fulfillment. 

The “actual” number of Americans with addiction issues is daunting. The US makes up only about 5% of the world’s population but consumes 75% of the world’s prescription drugs. In other words, the US beats every single other country on the planet when it comes to prescription drug consumption.

We take more drugs than absolutely every other country. That’s why it makes sense that half of all adult Americans say they have taken a prescription drug in the past 30 days. Opiate painkillers are the most abused prescription drugs in the US, with approximately five million Americans using and abusing painkillers each year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it’s estimated that Americans using prescription painkillers are using more than their fair share. In 2010, enough painkillers were prescribed by doctors to medicate every single person in the country for a month.

Prescription painkillers are also responsible for deaths. More than 100 prescription drug overdose deaths occur every day. That means prescription drugs are more lethal than car accidents, guns, and suicide. But that’s not all. Another 2.2 million people illegally used prescription tranquilizers and another 1.1 million Americans abused prescription stimulants. Therefore, Americans aren’t only addicted to opiate painkillers, we’re addicted to any form of prescription drug.

Seniors are Affected too

The prescription drug problem transcends age barriers, significantly impacting even the senior population, leading experts to label it a prescription drug epidemic.

This widespread issue sees over 300,000 seniors misusing their prescriptions, a disturbing trend that underscores the urgency of addressing this crisis across all demographics. Emergency rooms are increasingly witnessing seniors suffering from overdoses, highlighting the grave risks associated with the misuse of prescription medications. Notably, within a span of five years, from 2007 to 2011, emergency room visits for individuals over 55 years old related to prescription drug misuse alarmingly doubled.

Opioid painkillers, along with anti-anxiety medications like Xanax and Klonopin, rank as the most commonly abused drugs among the senior demographic. This escalating problem demands a concerted effort to implement preventive measures and education on the proper use of prescription drugs to combat what has become a significant public health challenge. Tailoring intervention strategies to the needs of seniors is crucial in mitigating the dangers of the prescription drug epidemic, particularly concerning opioids and benzodiazepines, which are among the most abused drugs.

Addressing this issue effectively requires not only medical intervention but also widespread education and support services tailored to the vulnerabilities of the aging population.

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In the United States, marijuana stands as the most commonly abused drug, surpassing the usage rates of any other substance. However, it’s crucial to understand that not all marijuana users are abusing the drug, though it’s estimated that approximately 30% of these individuals may be struggling with addiction. Following closely behind, prescription drugs constitute the next most abused category, encompassing opiates, stimulants, benzodiazepines, and tranquilizers. Particularly alarming is the heightened risk of addiction and abuse among seniors over 55, who may not always recognize the dangers associated with their prescription medications.

If you or someone you care about is battling addiction, whether it be to marijuana, prescription drugs, or any other substance, now is the time to seek help. Despite the grim statistic that only about 10% of those with drug addiction seek assistance, breaking the cycle of addiction is possible with the right support and treatment. Solace Treatment Center offers a beacon of hope for those seeking to overcome addiction. Our comprehensive care and supportive environment are designed to address the unique needs of each individual, providing a path toward recovery and a healthier future.

Don’t let addiction define your life or the life of someone you love. Contact Solace today to learn more about our programs and how we can help you or your loved one take the first step toward recovery. Remember, seeking help is a sign of strength, and it’s never too late to start the journey toward healing. Stop the cycle of addiction and embrace a new beginning with Solace Treatment Center.


The most abused drug varies by context and data source. Still, prescription drugs—particularly opioids, benzodiazepines, stimulants, and anti-anxiety medications—consistently rank high due to their widespread availability and addictive properties. Marijuana is also frequently cited due to its high prevalence of use.

Prescription drugs are widely abused for several reasons, including their accessibility, perceived safety (since doctors prescribe them), and their ability to treat specific physical or mental discomforts. However, their addictive properties can lead to dependence and misuse.

Signs of prescription drug abuse include taking higher doses than prescribed, using the medication for non-medical reasons, doctor shopping for multiple prescriptions, changes in behavior or mood, neglecting responsibilities, and physical signs of withdrawal or overdose.

Abusing prescription drugs can lead to serious health risks, including addiction, overdose, and death. It can also cause cognitive impairments mood disorders, and exacerbate underlying health conditions. The risk of combining prescription drugs with other substances, including alcohol, significantly increases these dangers.

Addiction treatment can vary depending on the drug and the individual’s needs but often includes a combination of medication-assisted treatment (MAT), counseling, behavioral therapies, support groups, and inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation programs.

Numerous resources are available for those struggling with drug abuse, including national hotlines (such as SAMHSA’s National Helpline), local addiction treatment centers, online support forums, and community support groups like Narcotics Anonymous. Health professionals can provide guidance tailored to the individual’s situation.

While marijuana is often viewed as less dangerous than some prescription drugs, its abuse can still lead to significant issues, such as mental health problems, dependence, and interference with daily life. The seriousness often depends on individual circumstances, including the presence of co-occurring disorders and the impact on the person’s life.

Preventing prescription drug abuse involves multiple strategies, including educating patients and healthcare providers about the risks, prescribing the lowest effective dose for the shortest duration necessary, monitoring patients for signs of abuse, and using prescription drug monitoring programs to track prescription histories.

Mental health is a significant factor in prescription drug abuse, with many individuals turning to these substances to self-medicate untreated or inadequately managed mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Addressing underlying mental health issues is a critical component of effective addiction treatment.

Yes, specific demographics, including seniors, adolescents, and people with previous substance abuse history or chronic health conditions, are at higher risk for prescription drug abuse. Seniors may be prescribed multiple medications, increasing the risk of misuse, while adolescents may access these drugs through family medicine cabinets.

The opioid epidemic is a direct consequence of prescription drug abuse, particularly of opioid painkillers. It began with the over-prescription of these medications in the late 1990s and early 2000s, leading to widespread misuse, addiction, and a surge in overdose deaths, highlighting the need for stricter prescribing guidelines and alternative pain management strategies.

Long-term effects of abusing drugs, including opioids, benzodiazepines, stimulants, and marijuana, can include chronic health issues, mental health disorders, addiction, social and relationship problems, financial difficulties, legal issues, and an increased risk of fatal overdose.

Communities can combat drug abuse through education and prevention programs, improving access to treatment, supporting recovery and harm reduction services, enforcing prescription drug monitoring programs, and fostering partnerships between healthcare providers, law enforcement, and community organizations to address the root causes of abuse and provide a supportive environment for those affected.

The legal status of marijuana, which varies by country and within states in the U.S., significantly impacts its abuse and perception. In regions where marijuana is legalized for medical or recreational use, there is often a shift in public perception toward viewing it as less harmful. This can lead to increased use and, potentially, abuse. However, legal status also allows for more regulated distribution and the potential for better education around safe use practices.

Individuals can take several proactive steps to prevent prescription drug abuse in their homes, including securely storing prescription medications out of reach of children and teenagers, not sharing prescriptions with others, properly disposing of unused or expired medications, and having open conversations with family members about the risks of drug abuse. Additionally, educating oneself and family members about alternative pain management and mental health treatment options can reduce reliance on prescription drugs.