The Ten Most Common Addictions in the US

The Ten Most Common Addictions in the US

Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol is a substance that causes intoxication in more settings than other common addictions. The selling and consumption of alcohol are legal in most places in the United States, though there are some “dry” counties where alcohol sales are prohibited. The active ingredient in alcohol is called ethanol.  Alcohol addiction can require treatment in a rehab facility.

Alcohol Use

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reported that in 2018:1

Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) denotes a condition when drinking is severe. AUD is a brain disease characterized by relapses during attempts to stop drinking. Compulsive alcohol use, loss of control over how much alcohol is consumed, and negative moods and emotions when not using alcohol can be a part of the disorder.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that in 2018:1

About 14.5 million American adults had Alcohol Use Disorder

Of these, the breakdown by gender was: 9.2 million men and 5.3 million women

About only 8% of American adults with AUD in the past twelve months received treatment - this left 92% of people with AUD untreated

Alcohol-Related Deaths

Every year, approximately 88,000 deaths are attributable to causes related to alcohol consumption, with about 62,000 males and 26,000 females dying.1 This makes alcohol the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States.

Health Effects of Alcohol

Abuse of alcohol can lead to many serious health problems and death:1

  • In 2015, 47% of the more than 78,000 deaths due to liver disease involved alcohol.
  • In 2013, 48% of deaths due to cirrhosis were alcohol-related.
  • In 2009, liver disease related to alcohol was the number one cause of about one in three liver transplants in our nation.
  • Excessive drinking increases the risk of all types of cancers including the esophagus, mouth, pharynx, liver, larynx, and breast.

Treatment for Alcohol Abuse

Medical detox may be needed to wean a person off alcohol safely. Supervised detoxification helps prevent painful and sometimes dangerous withdrawal symptoms that can include delirium tremens (DTs) which is characterized by tremors, fevers, and hallucinations. As with most addictions, individual and group counseling helps people in recovery stay sober.

Also, AUD relapse can be avoided by administering certain medications that help alcohol addiction recovery.

The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has three approved drugs that help treat AUD.2

Naltrexone helps reduce heavy drinking

Acamprosate makes it easier to stay away from drinking

Disulfiram stops the body from metabolizing alcohol, which then leads to distressing symptoms such as nausea and skin flushing - these effects can aid in avoiding alcohol while taking disulfiram


Barbiturates are a common addiction from the sedative-hypnotic drug class.

Barbiturates Use

Barbiturates are used in the treatment of seizures, sleeplessness, anxiety, to induce a coma, and to induce anesthesia. Commonly used barbiturates for medical purposes include amobarbital, butabarbital, secobarbital, and phenobarbital.

Barbiturates Abuse

Secobarbital (also called Seconal) is a Schedule II drug, which means the drug has the potential for physical and psychological dependence and abuse. Frequent side effects include low blood pressure, drowsiness, sedation, headache, nausea and skin rash.

The 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that among those aged twelve and older, 52,000 misused tranquilizers or sedatives in the past year in 2017.3

Deaths Due to Barbiturates

A study that looked at a group of people who took at least one hypnotic drug from 2002 to 2006 reported that the rate of death was 3.5 to 5.5 times higher in the group that took hypnotic medications compared to the ones who did not.4

Health Effects from Barbiturates

Common side effects of barbiturates are: feeling lightheaded, dizzy, drowsy, with nausea, vomiting, headache, and abdominal pain. When barbiturates are taken for long periods or are misused, it can reduce heart rate, slow breathing and can be habit-forming.

Treatment for Barbiturates Abuse

Barbiturate dependence requires professional treatment. First, a medically supervised detoxification must take place to slowly and safely wean the patient off barbiturates. Then, replacement medications can be used to ease withdrawal symptoms. A detox is not a standalone treatment, so either inpatient or outpatient rehab is needed to avoid relapse and ensure a successful recovery.


Benzodiazepines are a drug classification of medications mostly used to treat anxiety, panic attacks, seizures, and sleeplessness, thought to work by suppressing nervous system activity. Benzodiazepines are one of the most common addictions.

Benzodiazepines Use

A 2008 study reported that 5.2% of American adults aged 18 to 80 years used benzodiazepines.5

Benzodiazepines are a controlled substance, which means it has the potential for abuse and dependence. People take it for their calming effects, and to sleep. Benzodiazepines include alprazolam (Xanax), chlordiazepoxide (Librium), clonazepam (Klonopin), diazepam (Valium), flurazepam (Dalmane), lorazepam (Ativan), midazolam (Versed) and clobazam.

Benzodiazepines Abuse

The 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that among those aged twelve and older, 5,674,000 had misused benzodiazepines.3

Deaths Due to Benzodiazepines

The risks of death from misusing benzodiazepines are relatively low, but when benzodiazepines are used with opioids, the risk of dying increases significantly. One study reported that in 2010, 75% of drug overdose deaths were due to opioids.6 Of these, 30% of overdose deaths related to opioid analgesics involved benzodiazepines.6

Health Effects from Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines can have both short- and long-term health effects. The short-term effects include drowsiness, dizziness, confusion, and unsteadiness. The long-term health effects include depression, headaches, irritability, memory problems and sleep issues. In addition, physical dependence on benzodiazepines is possible, incurring withdrawal symptoms such as agitation, tremors, seizures, vomiting and sweating may occur.

Treatment for Benzodiazepines Abuse

A medically supervised detox, where the drug is slowly tapered down, may be the first step for benzodiazepine treatment. Replacement medications may be given to treat any issues that benzodiazepines were given for in the first place, such as seizures. Inpatient or outpatient programs that provide behavioral and medication-assisted treatment are good choices for those who need treatment for benzodiazepines misuse.


Cocaine is derived from the coca plant. The drug was originally used as an anesthetic, but because it was so highly addictive, it no longer has medical uses. When taken in high doses, it produces feelings of euphoria and high energy levels, making it a common addiction.

Cocaine Use

The 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that almost 6 million people reported using cocaine in the past year.7

Cocaine Abuse

Cocaine is classified as a Schedule I drug. This means that cocaine has high abuse potential, and there are no medical uses for it at the present time. The 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that about 2,248,000 used cocaine via a needle at some point in their lifetimes.3

Deaths from Cocaine Use

Death from overdose can happen on the first use of cocaine or unexpectedly any time after that.

From 2015 to 2016, deaths where cocaine was involved increased by 52.4%.8 In 2017, 70,237 Americans died from a drug overdose.8 Almost 20% of all drug overdose deaths were cocaine-related.8

Health Effects from Cocaine

Cocaine has many serious health consequences, including abnormal heart rhythms, artery spasms, heart attacks, strokes, brain hemorrhages, seizures, hallucinations, decreased blood flow to the intestines, muscle degeneration and acute liver injury.9

Treatment for Cocaine Abuse

Cocaine can have many serious medical effects, so it is important for those who seek rehab for cocaine use to be screened and treated for any medical problems. As with any other drug rehab approach, behavioral and alternative therapies given in a residential or outpatient setting help them reach and maintain recovery. Also, some medications can help treat cocaine addiction during the detoxification period and afterward.


Heroin is an opioid drug that is derived from morphine. The substance known as morphine is made from the different parts of opium poppy plants. Opioids are sometimes called opiates. Heroin is a highly addictive and dangerous street drug. The high rate of abuse makes heroin a common addiction.

Heroin Use

The 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that 886,000 people reported using heroin in the past year.7

Heroin Abuse

Heroin abuse is an epidemic in the United States. One reason for this is that heroin is a cheaper alternative to prescription opioids.

In 2015, approximately 600,000 Americans reported a substance use disorder involving heroin.10

In 2016, many law enforcement agencies in the United States said that heroin was easily bought and sold in their communities and was the top drug threat.10

Deaths Due to Heroin

From 2010 to 2015, deaths due to heroin overdose increased four-fold from 3,036 to 12,989.10

Health Effects Due to Heroin

The use of heroin for long periods causes many serious health effects. Injected heroin can lead to collapsed veins. Snorting the drug can damage tissue inside the nose. Other serious medical consequences include heart infections, skin abscesses, liver and kidney disease, lung problems, and mental disorders such as depression or personality disorders.11

Treatment for Heroin Abuse

Heroin abuse needs formal treatment that begins with medical detox. At-Home detox is not recommended because the withdrawal symptoms that occur when coming off heroin can lead to serious and painful side effects and possibly death. A medically supervised detox constantly monitors the patient and provides medications to control or avoid withdrawal symptoms. Once the detox is completed, individual and group therapies, as well as medications, can then be provided to prevent relapse and aid in recovery.


Inhalants are household products that contain solvents or aerosols that are misused. These products are inhaled (also known as “huffing”). Some examples of inhalants that are used for their intoxicating effects include paints, glues, deodorant, nail polish remover, lighter fluid, hair sprays, cleaning fluids and whipped cream cans. Inhalants can be a common addiction in younger people.

Inhalants Use

The 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that 1.8 million people used inhalants in the past year.7

Inhalants Abuse

Casual (or even an isolated) episodes of inhalant abuse can be extremely dangerous.12

Deaths from Inhalant Use

Inhalants can affect heart rhythms.12 They can also be fatal because inhalants can cause heart attacks.12 Death can also result from the ways inhalants lower oxygen levels to the point of suffocation.12

Health Effects of Inhalants

Regular abuse of inhalants can lead to serious vital organ damage of the heart, kidneys, liver, and brain.12

Treatment for Inhalants Abuse

Due to the serious and sometimes fatal effects of inhalants, it’s important to get treatment right away. Formal treatment is needed to control potential withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, loss of appetite, excessive sweating, sleep problems, and mood swings. Rehab in the form of behavioral therapies and motivational incentives are traditional treatment approaches.13


Marijuana is the parts or products that come from the plant Cannabis sativa. These plant parts contain significant amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Whether or not marijuana is properly classified as a common addiction is hotly disputed with the legalization movement.

Marijuana Use

The 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that marijuana was the most widely used drug. Almost 41 million Americans aged twelve and older reported using marijuana in the past year.7 The same survey reported that marijuana use had increased in adults. The greatest increases were in the age group of women 18-25 years-old.

Marijuana Abuse

The 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that 3.5 million adult Americans ages 18 and older had a marijuana use disorder.7

Deaths Related to Marijuana Abuse

The 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that eight million Americans reported using cannabis at least 300 times a year, which is essentially daily use.14 The amount of THC (the psychoactive chemical in marijuana) today makes it much more potent compared to the past. In the 1970s, THC was less than 2%.14 Today, marijuana contains about 20 to 25% THC.14

Research suggests that high THC levels can lead to psychosis, and psychosis raises the risk for violence. One study found that two-thirds of those who committed murder during psychotic episodes also misused cannabis.14

Health Effects from Marijuana Misuse

Cravings characterize cannabis use disorder, withdrawal symptoms, lack of control over cannabis use and negative consequences in the person’s life due to marijuana use.15

Treatment for Marijuana Misuse 

Inpatient or outpatient rehab with individual and group counseling can help in marijuana abuse recovery. To date, there are no FDA-approved medications to treat cannabis use disorder.


Nicotine is a chemical naturally found in tobacco leaves, and it’s a very common addiction.16 Nicotine stimulates the nervous system and releases neurotransmitters.16 Once nicotine starts to leave the body, cravings occur that motivate the person to again consume nicotine.

Nicotine Use

The 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health stated that among adult Americans, 59,856,000 reported using a tobacco product in the past month. Tobacco products include cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, cigars and pipe tobacco.17

Nicotine Abuse and Its Costs

Tobacco products have had a great impact on the United States economy. In 2010, it was estimated that health care costs related to tobacco totaled $168 billion.18 Overall, costs to the economy from lost work, crime and health care combined totaled $300 billion.18

Nicotine & Tobacco Deaths

Tobacco use is the first preventable cause of sickness and early death in the United States. Tobacco-related deaths number more than 480,000 deaths each year.19

Very large amounts of nicotine taken in short periods of time can cause death. Too much nicotine can lead to constriction of the blood vessels, high blood pressure and irregular heartbeat, nausea and vomiting.16

Health Effects of Nicotine & Tobacco

Tobacco products were responsible for 461,295 tobacco-related cancer hospital stays in 2014. (19) Tobacco use leads to many different types of cancer, including oral, pharynx, esophagus, larynx, colon, stomach, liver, pancreas, lung, cervical, bladder, kidney, as well as leukemia.19

Treatment for Nicotine Addiction 

Nicotine replacement therapy in the form of lozenges, gum, patches, and nasal sprays are used to help the cravings that lead to tobacco use. Nicotine replacement therapy doubles the rate of people who stop using tobacco products in the follow-up periods of six to twelve months.20

Opioid Painkillers​

Opioid painkillers are drugs made from opium poppy plants, or more commonly, they are made synthetically. Opioid painkillers are a common addiction because of their high rate of abuse and because of them being readily available by prescription.

Opioid Use

Opioid drugs are typically prescribed to relax the body and relieve pain. Some examples of opioid drugs include hydrocodone (Vicodin®), oxycodone (OxyContin®), oxymorphone (Opana®), morphine, codeine, and the powerful and highly dangerous fentanyl.

Opioid Abuse

The 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that a little more than 11 million people misuse opioid pain relievers, as they can produce extreme relaxation and a “high,” but their misuse and abuse is dangerous because they are highly addictive and carry a high risk for overdose and death.7

Opioid Overdose Deaths

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that in 2017, more than 70,000 Americans died from drug overdoses, and about 68% involved a prescription or illicit opioid.21

In 2015, deaths due to opioid overdoses rose more than four times from 8,050 in 1999 to 33,091.10 Opioid overdose deaths accounted for almost two thirds of all drug overdose deaths in the United States in 2015.10

Health Effects from Opioids

Opioid misuse can lead to slowed breathing to the point where it results in little oxygen reaching the brain. This lack of oxygen can cause permanent brain damage, coma or death.22 Slowed breathing can progress to the point where it stops, resulting in death.22

Treatment for Opioid Use and Addiction  

Painful and distressing withdrawal symptoms can including pain, sleeping problems, cold flashes, severe goosebumps, diarrhea, vomiting, uncontrolled leg movements as well as severe cravings.22 The severe cravings and other withdrawal symptoms make it difficult to stop without professional help. A medically supervised detox helps control cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Then, formal treatment is needed to prevent relapse and maintain sobriety. A variety of behavioral, alternative and medication-assisted treatments are typically used to treat opioid addiction.


Prescription stimulants are drugs commonly used to treat ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) and serious sleep disorders where sleep comes on unexpectedly. These types of drugs increase attention, alertness, and energy. Well-known stimulants include Adderall®, dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine®) and methylphenidate (Ritalin®, Concerta®). In today’s busy world, stimulants are a common addiction as people try to increase their energy and production.

Stimulants Use

The 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that 1.6 million Americans said they used amphetamines in the past year.7

Stimulants Abuse

The 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that 5.3 million adult Americans misused a type of prescription stimulant.7

Stimulant Overdose & Death

Prescription stimulant overdose often causes seizures or a heart attack and requires immediate medical help.23

A study by the CDC that looked at deaths from stimulant drugs (excluding cocaine) from the years 1999 to 2009 found that:24

  • The rates of death from stimulants tripled from 1999 to 2005.
  • Deaths then decreased from 2006 to 2008.
  • The death rate then rose in 2009.

Health Effects from Stimulants

Serious health effects from stimulants, even when they are used for short periods, can include anger, psychosis or paranoia. Heart and nerve problems, blood pressure changes and seizures can result.23

Treatment for Stimulant Abuse  

The misuse and abuse stimulants can cause withdrawal including fatigue, depression and sleeping problems.23

Behavioral therapies, such as CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) as well as motivational incentives, can be helpful in the treatment of prescription stimulant addiction.

If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse, talk with your doctor or a treatment center. With the right help, recovery is possible.



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