The 9 Most Common Addictions | Latest Addiction Numbers

Addiction is a lot more prevalent than most of us realize. According to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics, 60% of the U.S. population has abused drugs within a given year—that’s 165 million Americans! Of those millions, over a quarter of those illicit drug users end up developing a substance use disorder. The question is: which drugs are driving these startling addiction rates? The answer might surprise you. 


A few of the major contributors to U.S. drug addiction rates are the substances you would expect, but others are certain to be a shock. In many cases, some of the leading types of addiction aren’t necessarily the most popular drugs, but rather the ones that are the most potent with a mechanism that’s more conducive to the biological process of addiction. Join us as we explore the 10 most common addictions in the United States, including legal and illegal substances. 


The 9 Most Common Types of Drug Addiction

Nicotine  – 58 million

This legal drug isn’t just one of the most widely used around the world, it’s also one of the most addictive drugs of all time. In the U.S. alone, there are over 58 million tobacco users. Approximately 25% of users have had some form of tobacco dependency at some point in their lives. Even more alarming, is that tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death in the county. It’s directly attributable to more than 480,000 deaths every year, or about 1 in 5.

According to a study done regarding nicotine intake quantities, 5 milligrams a day can result in addiction. The average cigarette, however, has 10-12 milligrams of nicotine! Nicotine is quickly absorbed by the body and goes from the lungs to the brain in a matter of seconds. 


Alcohol – 14.8 million

No surprise with this one. Alcohol is one of the most widely consumed beverages on the planet. A common presence in American culture, alcohol abuse such as binge drinking and heavy drinking are common and have been normalized to such a degree that individuals don’t realize they’re drinking beyond healthy levels. Alcoholics Anonymous meetings are the most prolific of treatment options, and whose popularity has given way to dozens of similarly structured organizations that assist with other specific niches of drug addiction. 


Marijuana – 4.4 million

It’s not a secret that marijuana is a popular drug (in fact, it’s the most commonly used illicit drug by Americans, 43.5 people). However, what makes its number two spot so surprising is that marijuana addiction is considered to be rather uncommon. The way marijuana works, it naturally carries less risk of causing the compulsive behavior that characterizes addiction. However, it can contribute to long-term cognitive impairment, and therefore can still interfere with daily life and responsibilities enough to be considered a disorder. 


Prescription Pain Killers – 1.7. million

In the midst of the third wave of the United State’s opioid crisis, the epidemic use of both legal and illegal opioids has gripped the nation in its deadliest drug epidemic in history. Prescription painkillers have been a driving force behind this latest surge of drug use and are the second most commonly used illicit drug in the country. 

In many instances, addiction to a prescription drug is accidental; a person with a legitimate need is prescribed opiates for too long or for too strong a dosage. The result? Millions of well-intentioned Americans accidentally end up with a dependency on these painkillers, which often ends up being a gateway into harder drugs such as narcotics. 


Methamphetamine – 1.1 million

This drug has garnered national attention for several years now for being one of the most addictive and devastating of drugs. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, about two million Americans use meth, and about half of all users are addicted.  Rates of meth overdose have surged across over the past decade and account for 15% of all drug-related deaths. Although typically a stimulant, methamphetamine addiction has been measured and recorded separately by the National Survey on Drugs Use and Health in 2015. 


Cocaine – 977,000

Most people think of cocaine as a party drug that’s only used on occasion. While use is not as widespread as some other drugs, this powerful substance can get people hooked after only a couple of uses. And while opioids may currently have the nation’s attention, rates of death caused by cocaine have risen sharply by an average of 27% per year in a 5-year period. 


Prescription Sedatives – 751,000

As their name implies, prescription sedatives are primarily used to treat anxiety and panic disorders as well as serving as a sleep aid. These medications are made up of two classes of drugs: barbiturates and benzodiazepines. Both are central nervous depressants that effectively relax the brain by slowing down the messaging, however, barbiturates have largely been replaced by benzodiazepines as being a safer and less addictive alternative. Unfortunately, benzo abuse has still become rampant. Popular sedative medications you’ve likely heard of include Xanax, Valium, and Lunesta. 


Heroin – 526,000

Heroin has a much smaller pool of users compared to other opioids. However, what it lacks in the sheer volume of users it makes up for is addictiveness. This potent drug has the potential to cause addiction after a single use, and is one of the leading causes of opioid-related overdoses and deaths, in the United States. In most reporting, heroin is grouped with the general opioid category.


Prescription Stimulants – 561,000

These types of medications are primarily used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. As their name might suggest, these drugs can increase feelings of alertness, energy, and focus. Adderall is one of the most well-known prescription stimulants, and also one of the most notorious. Other common prescription stimulants include Ritalin and Concerta. 

It’s not often that stimulant abuse results in addiction. However, instances of overdose and dependence are far more frequent.


Getting Help For Common and Uncommon Addictions

No matter what substance you’re addicted to, going to a drug and alcohol rehab can help. These specialized facilities are experts who use a combination of medical treatment (detox and pharmacology) and behavior therapy to break addiction’s physical and psychological bond. They can help individuals identify the source of their drug use, providing invaluable insight into triggers and avoidance strategies. 


For those who aren’t ready to take the plunge of formal addiction treatment, 12 step-based groups can be both effective and less intimidating. Alcoholics Anonymous is the most well-known of these groups, however, other options cater to specific types of drug addiction. Narcotics Anonymous will likely be the most encompassing addiction to hard drugs. Fashioned after AA, Narcotic Anonymous meetings offer a minimally disruptive treatment option that uses peer relationships to encourage others to stop using. 



Reading for Addiction Recovery

Recovery is a time for healing, introspection, learning, and growing. While the first few days of recovery are often focused on detoxification, rest, and allowing the body to heal, the subsequent days are about establishing a new healthier routine and learning new skills for relapse prevention. Some recommended activities that promote the goals listed above include meditation, exercise, and reading for recovery. To provide some direction on where to start when it comes to recovery-related books and readings, here is a list to consider and what each text has to offer.

Alcoholics Anonymous – The Big Book

Alcoholics Anonymous and its 12 steps to recovery are outlined in the text more commonly referred to as The Big Book. The book is an incredible resource for individuals in recovery whether they are working the 12 steps or not. One of the best aspects of this book is that it actually includes true recovery stories from AA members. These stories are updated when new editions of the book are released so that the stories are relatable to people today. People in recovery may find these stories helpful because of the fact that the stories are relatable, demonstrate that they are not alone, and provide insight as to what the recovery process can look like.

12 and 12

If you are working on the 12 steps, this book is a tremendously helpful resource. This book goes into detail with full chapters dedicated to each of the 12 steps and 12 traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous. The brief 1-2 sentences that identify each step can feel vague and confusing to many individuals. This book breaks down what each step means and how to apply the step to the recovery journey. It also goes into the traditions, a lesser-known, but equally important aspect of the program.

As Bill Sees It

Bill was one of the co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous and he was a man full of many insights and much wisdom. He also was a man who wrote a lot when it comes to the topic of recovery. In his lifetime, Bill put pen to paper and documented these insights and wisdom. The writings were compiled into a book titled As Bill Sees It, “a daily source of comfort and inspiration.”

Daily Reflections

Containing 365 quotes from AA literature, Daily Reflections is a book that offers exactly what is in its title – a written reflection for each day of the year. Each quote is accompanied by personal reflection from an actual member of Alcoholics Anonymous. A common approach for recovery is taking it one day at a time. This book provides a quick and direct source for recovering addicts to take a moment each day and re-center their focus to recovery. Use it to get through the first year of recovery and pass it on to a new member, or keep it and read through the reflections year after year. There is no wrong option here.

Buying Reading Materials for Recovery

You can easily buy The Big Book or any other AA books and reading materials from the Alcoholics Anonymous website, or you can reach out to your local AA chapter. Oftentimes, AA chapters have used books available for those who do not have the means to purchase a copy.