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.