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The Most Misused Drugs or Substances

The Most Misused Drugs or Substances

As of 2012, it’s been estimated nearly 24 million Americans use drugs every month. That’s almost 10 percent of the population of the United States.

These studies show that drugs are prevalent in everyone’s lives, regardless of socioeconomic status. The most popular drugs or substances are alcohol, marijuana, prescription medications, over-the-counter substances, and spice or K2.

While the most misused drugs or substances may not be surprising, each of these drugs have a big impact on our lives, our communities, and society at large.


The prevalence of alcohol should come as no surprise. It is the most misused substance.

Alcohol is readily available, even with laws that prohibit selling it to minors. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. Produced by fermenting yeast, and it exists in wine, beer and liquor. Society and our culture often promotes the use or misuse of alcohol surrounding holidays or other special events.



Marijuana is the second-most prevalent drug of choice because of its accessibility and perceived safety. With the decriminalization of marijuana in certain states along with medical marijuana laws, usage has increased in minors and adults.

It can cause psychoses, it can damage the lungs, and if used by teenagers, can be highly addictive. One in six teenage users are likely to become addicted to marijuana.

Prescription Medications

Prescription medication misuse is becoming more common especially among young adults and teenagers. Because these drugs are often prescribed by doctors, individuals are more likely to think that these drugs are harmless or safe, when nothing could be further from the truth.

The most commonly misused prescription drugs are:

  • Methylphenidate (drugs such as Concerta and Ritalin)
  • Amphetamines (drugs such as Dexedrine and Adderall)
  • Opioids (drugs such as Morphine, Oxycodone, or Vicodin)
  • Codeine
  • Fentanyl
  • Depressants such as barbiturates (drugs such as phenobarbital)
  • Benzodiazepines (drugs such as Xanax and Valium)
  • Sleep medications (drugs such as Lunesta and Ambien)
  • Prescription strength cough syrups

Over-the-Counter Substances 

Over-the-counter medications that are frequently misused include the cough syrup ingredient, dextromethorphan. Methamphetamine is often made from pseudo-ephedrine, a decongestant found in cold medicines.

Spice or K2 

A relatively new drug, spice or K2, is “synthetic” marijuana.

Chemical analyses show that most spice products contain a designer or synthetic cannabinoid compound, and it is far from being “natural” as many spice product labels often claim.

Spice or k2

Spice is considered highly addictive and in many cases has been known to cause:

  • Confusion
  • Agitation
  • Hallucinations
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Vomiting
  • Raised blood pressure
  • Reduction in blood supply to the heart
  • Heart attacks

This list does not include all of the other popular drugs or substances being misused in this country. Some drugs such as cocaine (including crack), methamphetamine or meth, and heroin are also a cause for concern.

Learning more about the most misused drugs or substances can help prevent addiction. If you are concerned your loved one may be misusing one of the substances, contact us for a free and confidential consultation.


  • DrugFacts: Nationwide Trends, National Institute on Drug Abuse, January 2014,
  • Commonly Abused Drugs, National Institute on Drug Abuse, February 2015,
  • Monitoring the Future Study: Trends in Prevalence of Various Drugs, National Institute on Drug Abuse,
  • Media Guide: Most Commonly Used Addictive Drugs, National Institute on Drug Abuse,

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