If you think of drug addiction, you’ll typically bring substances like cocaine, heroin, and meth to mind.
When you imagine a drug addict, maybe you conjure up the image of a destitute homeless individual in shabby clothes.
The truth is, most drug addicts don’t fall into this category. Instead, the most commonly abused substances according to NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) are prescription pills and OTC medications. After this comes alcohol and marijuana with hard drugs nowhere to be seen.
Now, this is not to say that cocaine and heroin addiction are not serious problems. They are. According to the 2016 NSDUH (National Survey on Drug Use and Health), there are 1.9 million cocaine users in the US. Almost 1 million Americans use heroin each year. Throw in 1.6 million meth users and you can see that illegal drugs impact huge swathes of the population, too.
While the dangers of street drugs are well-publicized, many people are not so aware of the potential dangers of prescription painkillers, and even OTC medications.
Today, we’ll walk you through all the drugs that pose a problem if abused, both legal and illegal.
Let’s get started with some of the prescription painkillers we mentioned. How harmful can they be?
The Most Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs
According to the latest SAMHSA survey on drug abuse, 3.3 million Americans are currently misusing prescription painkillers.
Within this group, 60% claimed that they misused their medication to address physical pain while over 50% had obtained the painkillers they were misusing from a friend or family member.
Tackling the problem of prescription painkiller abuse is challenging as so many people legitimately require pain management medications, whether to treat post-surgery pain or to manage chronic pain.
Here are the most frequently abused prescription medications:
- CND depressants
- Sleep medicines
Opioids are the most commonly abused of all prescription painkillers. Millions of Americans have been adversely affected by the opioid epidemic that continues to ravage the US today.
This class of painkiller is routinely abused for the euphoric effects produced.
Synthetic opioids are usually used to treat short-term acute or chronic pain. The drug is safer than heroin, although it works in a similar manner by activating opioid receptors in the brain. Addiction to opioids can bring about severe withdrawal symptoms when use is discontinued.
Oxycodone, fentanyl, codeine, and Demerol are some of the most frequent targets of opioid abuse.
Benzodiazepines, commonly abbreviated to benzos, are sedative drug often used to treat anxiety and sleeping disorders. The drug induces a feeling of calmness.
Schedule II-IV drugs according to the DEA, benzos produce sedative and calming effects similar to those induced by opioids, but there is a much lower risk of overdose with this class of drug.
If benzos are used alongside opioids, the risks of both drugs are magnified.
Where opioids target the opioid receptors, benzos work on the GABA receptors. Taking opioids to excess could trigger problems with breathing while taking too many benzos can lead to motor control problems, amnesia, and mental fogginess.
If used to excess or abused, benzodiazepines end up creating the very symptoms they are intended to treat, thus perpetuating a vicious cycle of addiction.
The most commonly used Benzos include Xanax, Valium, Librium, Klonopin, Ativan, and Dalmane.
Stimulant prescription medications are prescribed for a number of medical uses. They are also used recreationally.
Medically, stimulants are mainly prescribed to help treat ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).
Recreationally, people use stimulants to improve alertness and energy while also inducing a pleasurable sensation. Smoking or injecting prescription stimulants creates intense feelings of euphoria.
The most popular prescription stimulants are Adderall, Ritalin, and Dexedrine.
Central nervous system depressants come in different forms, including:
CND depressants are typically used to treat panic, anxiety, sleep disorders, and acute reactions to stress.
Most sedatives are from the barbiturate family, but this class of drug also includes sleep medications like Lunesta and Ambien.
Tranquilizers include anti-anxiety medications and muscle relaxants. The most popular tranquilizers are Xanax and Valium.
All these medications slow down activity in the brain leading to impaired concentration, slurred speech, drowsiness, dizziness, confusion, motor control problems, slow breathing, and lowered blood pressure. All of these symptoms are intensified if the drug is abused.
Lunesta, Ambien, and Sonata are all commonly used to help patients sleep.
Using sleep medications for longer than recommended, though, can lead to dependence.
The Most Commonly Abused OTC Drugs
Over-the-counter medications can be sold without prescriptions, so they are easier to acquire. This ease of access means OTC drugs also have a high potential for abuse.
This type of medication is normally used to treat coughs, colds, constipation, and general pain.
The primary danger with these medicines is the fact they contain ingredients that can be abused at high dosages.
We’ll glimpse at the most commonly abused OTC drugs:
- DMX (Dextromethorphan)
- Diet pills
DXM (dextromethorphan) is an ingredient used in several popular cold medicines. Indeed, a 2008 study showed that almost 50% of US OTC medications contain DXM.
Those looking to abuse DXM typically search out extra-strength cough syrup, tablets, and capsules. The drug is then abused in high quantities for its sedative and hallucinogenic effects.
This substance has been immortalized by hip-hop artists drinking lean, DXM-laced soda. The drug is also often mixed with alcohol or marijuana.
Although DXM doesn’t act on opioid receptors, it’s nevertheless classified as a synthetic opiate, and it can trigger a false positive for opioids in a drug test.
Repeated and sustained use of DXM can lead to addiction and serious health consequences.
Antihistamine abuse might not be something you would associate with drug addiction.
This class of drug is used to treat allergic reactions and to prevent motion sickness. Antihistamines can also be used as a sleep aid thanks to the sedative acetylcholine they contain.
If antihistamines are combined with alcohol, marijuana, or opioids, the sedating effects are increased further.
Taking too many antihistamines can cause liver damage and serious long-term health consequences.
If a patient starts relying on antihistamines to sleep, discontinuing use can lead to a range of unpleasant side effects.
Mazindol, Diethylpropion, and Benzphetamine are some of the most common diet pills.
These medications are similar to stimulants like amphetamine and have a correspondingly high potential for abuse.
As a legal stimulant, these pills are easy to get hold of and widely abused.
Loperamide is a medication used to treat diarrhea that produces similar effects to opioids. The drug has been labeled the poor man’s methadone for this very reason.
Just like DXM, loperamide is a synthetic opiate, and it doesn’t attach to the opioid receptors in your brain. If taken in high doses, it acts in the same way as opioids, though.
Abusing this drug can lead to liver damage, stomach problems, and could result in overdose where the breathing slows down or stops completely.
Caffeine is safe in small doses, but dependence can quickly develop if the stimulant is overused.
Consuming too much caffeine causes anxiety, headaches, and high blood pressure.
When taken in the form of energy drinks or caffeine pills, especially when mixed with drugs or alcohol, caffeine can be dangerous. You should limit the consumption of caffeine to 300mg daily to avoid any negative health consequences.
The Most Commonly Abused Illegal Drugs
As we near the end of our list of the most commonly abused drugs in the US, it’s time for the illegal drugs that bring chaos to the lives of millions of Americans.
Here are the 5 most popular drugs in the US:
- MDMA (Molly)
Marijuana refers to the dried leaves and flowers of the cannabis sativa or cannabis indica plants. The drug is smoked, vaporized, or eaten in the form of edibles.
More than 90 million Americans have used marijuana, with millions more using the drug for the first time every year.
Marijuana is now legal in many states for both medical and recreational use.
While marijuana can bring about a pleasurable, relaxed high, the drug can also harm the lungs when smoked. Using marijuana also impairs memory, learning, concentration, and focus.
Although not physically addictive, many users become psychologically dependent on weed.
Cocaine is a powerful and addictive stimulant. It comes from the leaves of the coca plant.
Coming as a white powder, users snort cocaine. The drug can also be injected, although this is much less common.
Using cocaine brings about feelings of euphoria, mental alertness, and extreme energy. Users can become acutely sensitive to touch, sight, and sound.
Crack cocaine comes in the form of small, hard rocks of powdered cocaine in freebase form. This is typically smoked through a glass pipe. The effects of crack are even more intense, but extremely fleeting.
When used to excess, cocaine is damaging to the mind and body both. Extended and sustained use often leads to paranoia. Cocaine overdose can be fatal.
Heroin is an opioid made from morphine. This is a natural substance found in the seed pod of opium poppies.
This white-brown or brown powder is dissolved in liquid and injected intravenously. Users also smoke heroin. This is known as chasing the dragon.
The drug binds to the opioid receptors in your brain impacting pain and pleasure as well as breathing, heart rate, and sleeping. Users feel euphoric yet relaxed. Breathing slows down along with motion.
Many heroin users arrive at this drug via prescription opioids Indeed, up to 80% of heroin users in treatment report misusing opioids before getting involved with heroin.
Heroin is highly addictive and treatment often requires medically-supervised detox followed by a residential rehab program.
MDMA or molly is a synthetic drug that alters your perception and your mood.
Much like stimulants and hallucinogens, molly gives users a great burst of energy as well as distorting the perception of time and space.
In high doses, MDMA affects the body’s ability to regulate temperature. The resultant spike in body temperature can cause organ failure, or even death.
Popularized on the club scene, molly is now used in far wider settings than all-night parties.
Methamphetamine is a strong stimulant that produces feelings of alertness and euphoria.
The effects of meth are both long-lasting and extremely damaging to the mind and body. Heart problems and seizures often accompany meth abuse.
As Mexican drug cartels continue to flood America with illegally produced meth, millions of Americans still fall foul of this lethal and highly addictive drug.
Most Commonly Abused Legal Drugs
Now you’ve seen a snapshot of the most frequently abused illegal drugs and prescription drugs, how about those legal drugs causing most problems, both for the individual and society in general
Unsurprisingly, we have two old culprits to blame here:
Between them, these drugs kill millions worldwide every single year.
Nicotine is a highly addictive stimulant found in cigarettes, tobacco, and vaporizers.
This drug causes your blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing to rise.
Although nicotine itself does not cause cancer, many chemicals found in tobacco are carcinogenic. 30% of all cancer deaths are caused by smoking. Smoking also leads to lung diseases, increases the chance of heart disease, and it’s also been linked to other types of cancer like leukemia and as well pneumonia.
The harm caused by e-cigarettes and vaporizers is still being studied.
Cigarette smoking kills 480,000 people each year in the US, with smokers dying an average of 10 years earlier than non-smokers. If you still smoke, now would be a good time to quit.
Alcohol is socially acceptable, but incredibly damaging when abused.
Drinking excessively over the long-term damages the brain and most organs in the body. Heavy drinking punishes the liver, heart, and pancreas.
Alcohol use disorder can increase your risk of some cancers while weakening your immune system.
According to the 2019 NSDUH, 14.1 million adults have alcohol use disorder in the US. This amounts to over 1 in 20 adults struggling with a serious drinking problem.
As with many substances, addiction to alcohol has consequences that envelope the whole family. If you or someone you love is addicted to alcohol, you should investigate options for recovery.
How can you do that, though?
How to Recover from Addiction with The District Recovery Community
As you can see from today’s breakdown of the most commonly abused drugs in the US, an addict isn’t always the stereotypical bum with a crack pipe. From high-functioning alcoholics and cocaine-abusing executives to creatives addicted to marijuana or housewives swallowing prescription pills, there is no one-size-fits-all definition of an addict.
Luckily, recovery from addiction is not only possible, but the challenge can even be enjoyable with the right treatment in place.
If you’re ready to leave that chemical crutch behind and to reclaim the life you left behind, call the friendly team at District Recovery today at 844.287.8506 and we’ll help you get right back on track.