Most commonly abused drugs

What Are the Most Commonly Abused Drugs?

Whether you smoke marijuana, drink alcohol, or snort cocaine, there are risks involved with using drugs that can range from addiction to death. Knowing the risks can help you make better decisions that positively affect your health.

Emotional and physical responses to recreational drugs vary, depending on the person and the substance being abused, says Gregory B. Collins, MD, section head of the Alcohol and Drug Recovery Center at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation.

Understanding the effects of these drugs on your body and the serious threat of addiction they pose is the first step in protecting yourself.

Marijuana. This mild hallucinogen, derived from the Cannabis sativa plant, is the most commonly abused illegal drug in the United States, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. When used, usually through smoking, marijuana acts as a central nervous system stimulant. “It speeds up heart rate and raises blood pressure,” Dr. Collins says. “It can stimulate the nervous system enough that some people become paranoid while taking it.” At the same time, marijuana can dull memory, making it harder to concentrate or remember things.

Death from smoking too much marijuana is rare, but as with smoking cigarettes, habitual marijuana use can lead to heart disease and other cardiovascular problems. “There are a lot of substances in a marijuana joint,” Collins says. “You’re introducing a dirty substance into your lungs.” And just like tobacco smokers, marijuana smokers are at risk for respiratory problems such as chronic cough and frequent lung infections. Marijuana smoke also contains many carcinogens, though a definitive link between it and cancer remains unclear at this time.

In a recent U.S. survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, more than 4.5 million people ages 12 and over indicated that they were dependent on or abused marijuana.

Cocaine. A powerful, addictive stimulant, cocaine gives users a euphoric feeling when ingested, which, depending on the person, may or may not actually feel good. “Some people experience that rush as very pleasurable, but others don’t like it,” Collins says. The euphoric feeling is short-lived, lasting anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes.

Cocaine is usually snorted as a powder, but it can also be modified into rock form — so-called crack — and smoked. Cocaine tightens blood vessels and speeds up the heart. These cardiovascular effects are the main reason for most cocaine-related deaths. “Even in small doses, it can kill you,” Collins says. “Sudden death is not uncommon.”

Approximately 16 percent of Americans 12 and older have used cocaine at least once in their lifetime, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy. In the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration survey, about 1 million people age 12 and over said they were dependent on cocaine, down from 1.1 million the year before.

Opiates. These drugs, which include both street drugs like heroin and pharmaceutical painkillers like morphine and codeine, act on the body’s central nervous system by stimulating the brain’s “reward center,” which controls pleasurable feelings. Opiates mimic the effects of healthy feel-good activities, like having sex or eating. However, in high doses, opiates can cause some of the brain’s critical functions, like breathing, to slow down or stop working. In an overdose “the brain shuts off the ‘thermostat’ that drives respiration,” Collins says. “The person goes into a coma and dies.”

Since heroin is commonly injected, users are also at risk for HIV and hepatitis, which can be transmitted through shared needles.

In a 2010 U.S. survey, nearly 359,000 Americans ages 12 and over considered themselves dependent on heroin, up significantly from 214,000 in 2002.

Methamphetamine. Usually a white powder that is smoked, snorted, or injected, this powerful stimulant is highly addictive. Like cocaine, methamphetamine (often known simply as “meth”) can speed up the heart, as well as cause hyperthermia, an extremely high body temperature. When used over a long period of time, methamphetamine can cause anxiety, insomnia, and even psychotic symptoms, like hallucinations. Severe dental problems can also occur; the drug is acidic and can wear down teeth over time. Users often grind their teeth as well, further damaging them.

As with heroin users, people who inject methamphetamine are at risk for HIV and hepatitis.

According to the national survey on drug use and health, about 13 million Americans ages 12 or older have used methamphetamine at least once in their lifetime. About 277,000 people over age 12 consider themselves dependent on stimulant drugs, a slight increase over the year before.

Alcohol. Moderate consumption of alcohol is safe for most people, but heavier use can lead to problems. Over the long term, having more than one alcoholic drink per day for women or anyone over 65 or two drinks per day for men under 65 can increase a person’s risk of developing medical conditions like pancreatitis and liver and heart disease.

Alcohol also has short-term health effects. Since alcohol is a depressant, it can slow motor skills and impair the user’s ability to make clear judgments. Additionally, a woman who uses alcohol while pregnant puts her unborn child at risk for fetal alcohol syndrome, a condition that can cause mental retardation, impaired vision, and other lifelong problems.

About 14 million people in the United States either abuse alcohol or are alcoholics, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

From alcohol to cigarettes, most adults have tried some form of recreational drug. Fewer people have experimented with prescription medication for recreational reasons, but certain areas of the country are experiencing a serious problem with opoid addiction. Other drugs like cocaine and LSD, are used sporadically among adults in the U.S.

Using data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Data Archive, the experts at HealthGrove, a health data site, ranked the 25 most commonly used recreational drugs. The substances are ordered by the increasing percentage of people age 12 and over who used the drug recreationally in 2015. In the case of a tie, the drug with a higher classification by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is ranked higher.

To collect this data, SAMHDA conducts the annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in which they record use of illicit drugs, alcohol and tobacco in the U.S. population aged 12 or older. It is important to note that this data only includes recreational use of drugs, not proper medical use.

Drugs that are legal, alcohol and tobacco, have the highest recreational use. According to the survey, nearly one in five people over the age of 12 also used marijuana in 2015. As the drug becomes legal in more states, recreational use is likely to increase. Other Schedule I drugs (drugs determined to have no medical benefit by the DEA) including heroin and DMT had a recreational prevalence rate of less than 1 percent in 2015.

Note: Not all images in slideshow depict the exact drugs.

Media Guide


Marijuana (cannabis) refers to the dried leaves, flowers, stems, and seeds from the Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica plant and is the most commonly used illicit substance. It is now legal in some states for medical and recreational use. Some people use marijuana for its pleasurable high, but this drug also impairs short-term memory and learning, the ability to focus, and coordination. It also increases heart rate, can harm the lungs, and can increase the risk of psychosis in vulnerable people. Data suggest that 30 percent of those who use marijuana may have some degree of marijuana use disorder.7 People who begin using marijuana before the age of 18 are four to seven times more likely than adults to develop a marijuana use disorder.8 For more information, visit

Marijuana Research at NIDA and NIH

As part of its mandate to study drug use and addiction and other health effects of both legal and illegal drugs, NIDA funds a wide range of research on marijuana; its main mind-altering ingredient, THC; and other chemicals, such as cannabidiol (CBD). For more information about NIDA research on marijuana and cannabinoids, visit NIDA is one of 27 institutes and centers who could fund research on marijuana. For more information about NIH-funded research on marijuana, visit

Medical Marijuana

Although many states have legalized marijuana for medical use, the scientific evidence to date is not sufficient for it to gain U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval, for two main reasons.

First, there have not been enough clinical trials showing that marijuana’s benefits outweigh its health risks. The FDA requires carefully conducted studies (clinical trials) in hundreds to thousands of patients to determine benefits and risks.

Second, to be considered a legitimate medicine, a substance must have well-defined and measurable ingredients that are consistent from one unit to the next (such as a pill or injection). This consistency allows doctors to determine the dose and frequency. As the marijuana plant contains hundreds of chemical compounds that may have different effects and that vary from plant to plant, evaluating the whole plant as a medicine is difficult.

However, synthetic THC-based drugs to treat nausea caused by chemotherapy and increase appetite in patients with extreme weight loss caused by AIDS are already FDA-approved and prescribed. In addition, the FDA recently approved Epidiolex®, the first medicine derived from the marijuana plant itself. Epidiolex® is made using CBD, a non-pscyhoactive ingredient in the plant, and has shown efficacy in treating two rare and severe forms of epilepsy in children. For more information, see our Marijuana as Medicine DrugFacts at

Synthetic Cannabinoids (K2/Spice)

Synthetic cannabinoids are human-made, mind-altering chemicals that are either sprayed on dried, shredded plant material so they can be smoked (herbal incense) or sold as liquids to be vaporized and inhaled in e-cigarettes and other devices (liquid incense) to produce a high.

These chemicals are called cannabinoids because they are related to chemicals found in the marijuana plant. Because of this similarity, synthetic cannabinoids are sometimes misleadingly called “synthetic marijuana” (or “fake weed”), and they are often marketed as “safe,” legal alternatives to that drug. In fact, they are not safe and may affect the brain more powerfully and differently than marijuana; their actual effects can be unpredictable and, in some cases, severe or even life-threatening.

Synthetic cannabinoids are part of a group of drugs called new psychoactive substances (NPS). These are unregulated mind-altering substances that have become recently available on the market and are intended to produce the same effects as illegal drugs. Some of these substances may have been around for years but have reentered the market in altered chemical forms, or due to renewed popularity.

People taken to the emergency room after using synthetic cannabinoids report rapid heart rate, vomiting, violent behavior, and suicidal thoughts. These drugs can also raise blood pressure and reduce blood supply to the heart, as well as cause kidney damage and seizures. Synthetic cannabinoids have a high addictive potential and no medical benefit, so the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has made it illegal to sell, buy, or possess them. However, manufacturers try to sidestep these laws by changing the chemical formulas in their mixtures. For more information, visit

Prescription and Over-the-Counter Medications

Some prescription and over-the-counter medications are increasingly being misused (used in ways other than intended or without a prescription). This practice can lead to addiction and, in some cases, overdose. Among the most disturbing aspects of this emerging trend is its prevalence among teenagers and young adults, as well as the common misperception that because these are used medically or prescribed by physicians, they are safe even when not used as intended. Commonly misused classes of prescription drugs include opioid pain relievers, stimulants, and central nervous system (CNS) depressants (sedatives and tranquilizers).

Opioids are a class of drugs naturally found in the opium poppy plant. Some prescription opioids are made from the plant directly, and others are made by scientists in labs using the same chemical structure. Opioids are often used as medicines because they contain chemicals that relax the body and can relieve pain. Prescription opioids are used mostly to treat moderate to severe pain, though some opioids can be used to treat coughing and diarrhea. Opioids can also make people feel very relaxed and high—which is why they are sometimes used for non-medical reasons. This can be dangerous because opioids can be highly addictive, and overdoses and death are common. Heroin is one of the world’s most dangerous opioids, and is never used as a medicine in the United States. Prescription opioids and heroin are chemically similar and can produce a similar high. In some places, heroin is cheaper and easier to get than prescription opioids, so some people switch to using heroin instead.

In the short term, opioids can relieve pain and make people feel relaxed and happy. However, opioids can also cause drowsiness, confusion, nausea, constipation, euphoria, and slowed breathing. Slowed breathing can cause hypoxia, a condition that results when too little oxygen reaches the brain. Hypoxia can have short- and long-term psychological and neurological effects, including coma, permanent brain damage, or death, resulting in increasingly higher overdose deaths in the U.S. Researchers are also investigating the long-term effects of opioid addiction on the brain, including whether damage can be reversed.

Stimulants such as Methylphenidate (Ritalin®, Concerta®) and amphetamines (Adderall®, Dexedrine®) are commonly prescribed for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy—uncontrollable episodes of deep sleep. Prescription stimulants increase alertness, attention, and energy. Stimulants enhance the effects of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, such as norepinephrine and dopamine. Dopamine affects feelings of pleasure. Norepinephrine affects blood vessels, blood pressure and heart rate, blood sugar, and breathing. People who use prescription stimulants report feeling a “rush” (euphoria) along with increased blood pressure and heart rate, increased breathing, decreased blood flow, increased blood sugar, opened-up breathing passages. At high doses, prescription stimulants can lead to a dangerously high body temperature, an irregular heartbeat, heart failure, and seizures. Repeated misuse of prescription stimulants, even within a short period, can cause psychosis, anger, or paranoia.

CNS Depressants are medicines that include sedatives, tranquilizers, and hypnotics. They are usually prescribed to treat anxiety, panic, acute stress reactions, and sleep disorders. Sedatives primarily include barbiturates (e.g., phenobarbitol) but also include sleep medications such as Ambien® and Lunesta®. Tranquilizers primarily include benzodiazepines, such as Valium® and Xanax®, but also include muscle relaxants and other anti-anxiety medications. These medications slow brain activity, which can cause drowsiness, slurred speech, poor concentration, confusion, dizziness, problems with movement and memory, lowered blood pressure, and slowed breathing, especially when misused.

Over-the-counter medicines that are commonly misused include dextromethorphan (DXM), a cough suppressant, and loperamide, an antidiarrheal. Products containing DXM can be sold as cough syrups, gel capsules, and pills that can look like candies. They are often misused by young people, who refer to the practice as “robotripping” or “skittling.” Loperamide is available in tablet, capsule, or liquid form. Both DXM and loperamide are opioids. DXM does not have effects on pain reduction or addiction and does not act on the opioid receptors. However, when taken in large doses, DXM can cause a depressant and hallucinogenic effect. Short-term effects of DXM misuse can range from mild stimulation to alcohol- or marijuana-like intoxication. Loperamide does not enter the brain; but when taken in large doses and combined with other substances, it may cause the drug to act in a similar way to other opioids. Loperamide misuse can cause euphoria, similar to other opioids, or lessen cravings and withdrawal symptoms, but other effects have not been well studied and reports are mixed.

For more information about misuse of prescription and over-the-counter medicines, view the following NIDA resources:

  • Prescription Opioids DrugFacts
  • Prescription Stimulants DrugFacts
  • Prescription CNS Depressant DrugFacts
  • Over-the-Counter Medicines DrugFacts
  • Misuse of Prescription Drugs Research Report

Top Ten Most Commonly Abused Drugs in America

Alcohol Addiction, Drug Addiction, Facts About Addiction, Substance Abuse, Uncategorized | October 01, 2015

Addiction to drugs and alcohol is one of the top public health problems in the U.S. – one the CDC is calling an epidemic.

To understand the scope of the problem, let’s look at its size.

  • It is believed that 23 million Americans are addicted to drugs and/or alcohol. That’s one in every ten people over the age of 12. One in ten… very nearly the population of the entire state of Texas.
  • Just eleven percent (11%) of those with addictions to drugs and/or alcohol are in treatment.
  • Addiction to prescription drugs for non-medical use has reached alarming levels. It’s believed that close to 2.5 million in the U.S. are addicted to opioid drugs like Oxycontin and Vicodin.
  • Drug addiction rates for those in their 50’s and 60’s are rising rapidly.

Which addictive substances are the most troubling? Here is the list:

  • Alcohol – the most abused substance in America. Eighty-six million are considered abusers
  • Tobacco
  • Marijuana – it is believed that 4.3 Americans are marijuana dependent
  • Pain killers – 2.4 million are addicted to this class of drugs – commonly referred to as opioids.
  • Sedatives – Sedatives like benzodiazepines and tranquilizers like barbiturates are central nervous system depressants that work similarly to alcohol. Benzodiazepines such as Lorazepam (Ativan) and Alprazolam (Xanax) are the most commonly prescribed depressants. In 2012, the vast majority (i.e. 2.1 million) of the 2.4 million users came from nonmedical users of benzodiazepines.
  • Cocaine – it’s estimated that 1.1 million people in the U.S. are addicted to this powerful nervous system stimulant.
  • Stimulants (e.g., Ritalin and Aderall) – current estimates put the rate of addictive use at 1.2 million people in the U.S.
  • Hallucinogens (e.g., LSD, PCP, peyote, mescaline, etc.) – addiction rates for this drug is currently pegged at 1.1 million people in the U.S.
  • Heroin – perhaps the most addictive substance on earth. This one is a major problem with rapidly rising rates of addiction – addictions that often begin with the non-medical use of painkillers.
  • Methamphetamine – it is estimated that this powerful and addictive drug has ahold of as many as 450,000 people in America.

The problem of drug and alcohol addiction in the U.S. is huge in scope… and the cost to society in terms of shattered lives, lost productivity, crime and disease is staggering.

What can be done to turn things around?

Research shows that addiction is a chronic disease – not a short term, acute problem. Research also shows that the tools most often used to treat the problem – short term treatment options, such as 28 day in-patient programs, often fail.

But there is hope…

Models of care are just now being developed by treatment programs like Aware Recovery Care in Connecticut to treat addiction as a chronic disease. And their impressive success rates have the attention of medical researchers at Yale and elsewhere. Find out more at

Photo credit: epjhu via CC BY NC ND

U.S. History of Illicit Drugs

Home Drug Abuse Symptoms, Facts, and Statistics U.S. History of Illicit Drugs

What Is the History of Illicit Drugs in the U.S.?

The United States currently has a problem with illicit drug use. It’s easy to think of illicit drugs as a curse of modern life. In these hectic times, when friendships are often virtual instead of emotional, when people struggle to find and keep a good job, and when consumers are bombarded with messages at every turn, it’s understandable why some people turn to drugs to find relief from pain, stress, and dysfunction.

While it’s true that drugs are a part of contemporary life, it’s also true that drugs have been in play for decades. In fact, the United States has a long history of declaring specific drugs illegal, and the results of those declarations have been mixed.

It’s unclear when the first drugs were discovered. Some attribute the discovery to native cultures, which often included hallucinogenic plants in their healing rituals. Others suggest that ancient cultures experimented with fermentation to decrease pain and increase pleasure. Many illicit drugs were first considered amazingly helpful by medical professionals and the general public in the early days of their introduction. Only later were they discovered to be harmful and then declared illegal.

Americans have been abusing drugs like morphine and laudanum since the 1800s. There are even reports of people sharing needles from as long ago as 1914. At some point, drug use was legitimized for use in medications, including concoctions given to children. Before the FDA regulated the world of pharmaceuticals, it wasn’t unusual to find illicit drugs used in remedies for common maladies.

Back in the day, cocaine was used to treat toothaches. Medications routinely contained opium and alcohol and were given to people who had a “case of the nerves.” Asthma was treated with heroin, and teething syrup for infants contained morphine.

In the late 1800s, consumers were delighted to discover morphine and laudanum. These narcotics were marketed to consumers as cure-all medications that could treat anything. Though they were intended for medicinal use, some people began abusing the “medicines” and addiction rates skyrocketed.

In the 1960s, drugs like marijuana, cocaine, and LSD gained popularity and became widely used. The 60s saw an entire generation of Americans begin to openly experiment with new types of drugs. Instead of the narcotic-soothing drugs of the 1800s, Americans in the 60s sought out hallucinogenic drugs that could help them have “new” experiences. Use of marijuana and cocaine became widespread in the 60s as people continued to challenge the status quo of post-WWII America.

Cocaine remained popular through the 1980s and even 1990s, and today prescription opioids have become a national epidemic, continuing this pattern of illicit drug use in our country.

As addiction rates began to climb, policy holders began to take notice, and they began to make sweeping reforms in order to eliminate drugs from society. Products containing drugs disappeared from almost all drugstores, and in 1973, President Richard Nixon developed the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to help combat drug production.1]

At its creation, the agency had just 1,470 agents and a budget of less than $75 million. It was quickly determined that the country needed a far greater task force to help police the drug routes and keep communities safe.

Saying No

Drug use peaked in 1979 when one in 10 Americans used drugs on a regular basis. Many drugs were declared illegal by this time, including most that were added to medicinal tinctures in the 1800s.

However, many people continued to use these drugs. As jail sentences began to increase for possessing even small amounts of illegal drugs, and drug task forces began to crack down on the importation and distribution of drugs, many users quickly abandoned their drugs of choice because they were too dangerous.2

In addition, effective treatments for addiction began to come into play, allowing people who were addicted to get the help they needed in order to stop supporting the drug trade.

Drug abuse also became much less acceptable by society in general during the 1980s and early 1990s, in part because of a campaign created by Nancy Reagan. The “Just Say No” campaign began in 1982 when the former First Lady visited an elementary school in Oakland, California. In response to the raging crack-cocaine epidemic of the time, celebrities and mainstream media quickly adapted the phrase as part of a nationwide push to deter children from using drugs.3

Shifting opinions about drug addiction and its devastating consequences had some impact on addiction rates. Prior to Reagan’s campaign, addiction was considered an individual problem that was specific to one person at one time.

Combined with the crack-cocaine epidemic and the sudden emergence of HIV/AIDS within specific population groups, it was obvious that the nation needed a clear and direct approach to dealing with drug use.

Virginia Burridge, a PhD researcher whose career has focused on public health concepts, illicit drug use prevention, and injection control strategies said that, “HIV has simplified the debate and we now see the emergence of what I will call the public health paradigm. Rather than seeing drug use as a metaphorical disease, there is now a real medical problem associated with injecting drugs. All can agree that this is a major public health problem for people who inject drugs, their sexual partners and their children.”4

Policies began to shift from punishing the offender to helping the drug addict, or at least reducing the amount of harm that the user could come to. These shifts may have also decreased use rates and addiction rates.

Future Directions

The War on Drugs, as it has come to be known, has cost the U.S. government an exorbitant amount of money. In 2015, it was estimated the federal government spent an estimated $9.2 million dollars every day to combat drugs.5 Every 25 seconds, someone in the US is arrested for drug possession and this number has tripled since 1980, reaching 1.3 million arrests per year in 2015. That’s six times higher than the number of arrests for drug sales.7

Though these statistics are alarming, there is some hope. Many areas around the country are implementing new strategies to help with the difficulties that come from being addicted to drugs. Addiction research is better funded than ever before, allowing the scientific community to understand how addiction works. In turn, this helps develop revolutionary approaches to addiction treatment.

The stigma surrounding addiction continues to be lifted as more and more people are learning about how addictions take hold. Eventually, this might make people less likely to experiment with drugs. If you know that taking methamphetamine, even once, can change the way your brain looks on a brain scan for the following seven years, you might be less likely to use meth. Knowledge might truly be the best way to combat addiction, and that knowledge is growing. Addiction may never disappear, but there are good reasons to hope that the end of this major blight might be in sight.


About the Editor

Kindra Sclar, M.A.

Kindra Sclar is a Senior Web Content Editor for American Addiction Centers. Before joining the company, she worked for more than 8 years as a print and web editor for several print and online publishers. Kindra has worked on content…

Ever since Nixon declared his infamous “War on Drugs” there has been much discussion as to what constitutes a drug. In the United States, there is an extensive list of substances, including illegal substances, that have all made their way to be considered drugs.

The first thoughts that come to mind are the heavy hitters, such as cocaine and heroin. However, when it comes to the list of most commonly abused drugs in the United States, the actual results might surprise you. Here are the top 5 drugs that are currently the most abused in the United States.


Benzos are a class of depressant typically used as a medication to treat anxiety, insomnia, and other mental illnesses. The most common benzos are Xanax, Valium, and Ativan. These are widely prescribed and create a pleasant sensation of relaxation and calm. The main issue is that they are abused along with heavy drinking or other drugs such as cocaine.


Drugs such as Oxycontin, Vicodin, and Percocet all fall under this category. Typically they are prescribed for injury or prolonged pain. The problem is that most of these painkillers are opiates, falling in the same family as heroin. Opiates are highly addictive and even people using them as prescribed can become addicted. Recreational users will often take painkillers in combination with alcohol to heighten the effects. Doing so can lead to a number of health risks including liver failure and death in severe cases.


Marijuana, while not noted as being as lethal as the other drugs already mentioned, still ranks in as one of the most abused drugs in the United States. Unlike the other drugs, however, marijuana has been recently under new scrutiny as many states are looking to legalize, or at the very least, decriminalize marijuana. Some, such as Colorado, already have.


It doesn’t come as much of a surprise that tobacco makes the list, given its super addictive properties. However, it’s become so commonplace that most people don’t even consider tobacco to be a drug. Cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, and many other forms are all sold legally and just about everywhere. That said, tobacco is responsible for more deaths annually than just about every other drug combined.


Indeed, alcohol is the most commonly abused drug in the United States, with over half of the population identifying as drinkers. Alcohol comes with a number of complications ranging from health conditions such as liver and kidney failure to more direct hazards such as drunk driving. Because of its availability and the number of consumers, alcohol takes the number one spot for the most abused drug in the United States.

If you or anyone you know is suffering from substance abuse or addiction to any substance, get help. Counseling and rehabilitation services can go a long way towards increasing both quality of life as well as life expectancy. If you or someone you know is charged with drunk driving and in need of help, seek that help from the experienced Maryland drunk driving lawyers at Alpert Schreyer, LLC.


Types of OTC Drugs and Side Effects of Abuse

Over-the-counter (OTC) drugs are medications that can be purchased without a prescription from a healthcare provider. When used appropriately and taken in proper doses, these drugs have been deemed safe and effective for use by the public in order to treat a range of conditions from allergies, to pain relief to the common cold. In contrast, prescription drugs are dispensed by pharmacists at the request of a physician’s prescription but like OTC drugs, are also misused.

Aside from marijuana, legal medicines (including OTC drugs) are the most commonly abused substances in the United States. Easy for both teens and adults to get ahold of, many of these medications are misused due to their psychoactive, or mind-altering properties. Dextromethorphan (DXM) is just one example of an addictive substance found in OTC drugs.

A type of dissociative drug, DXM is found in over 100 OTC cough and cold medications (i.e. Coricidin and Robitussin) and can lead to hallucinations, sensory deprivation, impaired judgment and other dangerous side-effects.

Commonly abused OTC drugs include:

  • Cough and cold medicines (dextromethorphan)
  • Pain relievers (acetaminophen and ibuprofen)
  • Nasal decongestants (pseudoephedrine)
  • Motion sickness pills (dimenhydrinate and diphenhydramine)
  • Caffeine pills
  • Laxatives
  • Diet pills (ephedra)
  • List of additional OTC drugs

When misused, OTC medications can lead to a wide-range of short-term side-effects (i.e. lethargy, dizziness, slurred speech, high blood pressure, etc.) depending on the drug being ingested. Long-term effects of abusing these drugs may include seizures, brain and liver damage and comas, any of which can lead to death.

Treatment for OTC Drug Addiction

OTC drug addiction is when an individual recurrently consumes medications, usually in larger-than-recommended doses, even when symptoms are not present. This abuse can cause an increase in the amount of dopamine released in the brain, which then triggers feelings of pleasure. Many people seek to repeatedly recreate this enjoyable, but temporary sensation, which is often what leads to lasting addiction.

Continued OTC drug abuse can lead to a physical dependence as well as withdrawal symptoms if the habit is stopped. These withdrawal symptoms may be physical, emotional or cognitive in nature.

For those who are suffering from OTC drug addiction or withdrawal symptoms, Talbott Recovery offers a drug addiction treatment program to help individuals recover from various states of substance abuse. Our campuses can be found in three cities across Georgia which include Atlanta, Dunwoody and Columbus.

At Talbott Recovery we are here to help. If you or a loved one is seeking treatment for an OTC drug addiction, please consider contacting us for more information or with any questions you might have. Call 678-251-3189 now.

10 Most Common Addictions

Here Are The 10 Most Common Addictions

Tobacco (nicotine) – Over 40 Million

Nicotine addiction may not appear as harmful as many other addictions. This is likely because tobacco products are legal and easy to get, and the worst side effects of abusing them take time to develop. Tobacco use claims more lives than any any other addictive substance. Many smokers cannot quit despite knowing smoking’s impact on their health. Wanting to quit but being unable to is a telltale sign of addiction.

Find out how to quit tobacco.

Alcohol – 18 Million

The social acceptance of drinking can make alcohol addiction hard to spot. Despite its legal status, alcohol’s potential for abuse opens users up to many health risks and possible addiction.

Alcohol abuse has numerous negative consequences. In addition to deaths from liver disease and alcohol overdose, drunk driving claims thousands of lives every year.

Learn more about alcoholism

Marijuana – 4.2 Million

The legalization of marijuana in some states has made the drug’s use more socially acceptable. This trend can distract people from marijuana’s addictive potential. Rates of marijuana addiction might also be growing due to increasing potency (over 60 percent) over the past decade.

Learn more about marijuana dependence.

Painkillers – 1.8 Million

Drugs like codeine, Vicodin and Oxycontin are commonly prescribed to treat pain. Painkillers’ prescription status does not mean they aren’t addictive. Addiction to painkillers can develop from seemingly harmless levels of use. Most patients who become addicted to prescription painkillers don’t notice they have a problem until they try to stop use. Painkillers are also abused without a prescription, which can also lead to an addiction.

Learn how to beat a painkiller addiction.

Cocaine – 821,000

Rates of cocaine addiction in the United States are dropping. The decline is slow, however, with an estimated 821,000 Americans still addicted as of 2011. Crack cocaine, which is cheaper and more intense than regular cocaine, is responsible for many crippling addictions and ruined lives.

Learn how to battle a cocaine addiction.

Heroin – 426,000

Heroin’s severe withdrawal symptoms make beating a heroin addiction a difficult task. Treating heroin addiction typically requires a combination of therapy and medications to help manage symptoms of withdrawal and cravings.

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Heroin abuse has been growing in the United States, particularly among young women. There is growing concern over heroin users contracting and spreading diseases like HIV and AIDS by sharing needles for injection.

Find out how to treat a heroin addiction.

Benzodiazepines – 400,000

“Benzos” — such as Valium, Xanax, Diazepam and Klonopin — are prescribed as mood-regulating drugs to manage conditions like anxiety and stress. Those developing an addiction to these drugs oftentimes aren’t aware until they can’t function normally without the substance.

Benzodiazepines are especially dangerous because of their powerful impact on the brain’s chemical makeup. Withdrawals can be deadly without medical assistance during detox.

Learn more about benzodiazepine addiction.

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Stimulants – 329,000

Stimulants range from prescription drugs, such as Adderall or Ritalin, to illicit substances like meth. These drugs are highly addictive, and intense withdrawal symptoms make quitting difficult. Stimulant users can quickly build a tolerance to the drug’s euphoric “high,” leading to increased use and risk of overdose.

Find out about stimulant dependence.

Inhalants – 140,000

Inhalant addiction is particularly dangerous because inhalants are volatile toxic substances. The effects of these substances — gasoline, household cleaning products, aerosols — are intense and can have immediate consequences including hospitalization or death. Chemicals prevalent in inhalants can linger in the body and brain long after stopping use, making complete recovery more difficult.

Learn more about inhalants.

Sedatives (barbiturates) – 78,000

Millions of Americans are prescribed barbiturate sedatives, commonly known as sleeping pills, to treat tension and sleep disorders. Every year, thousands of prescription users build a tolerance — and ensuing addiction — to drugs like Lunesta and Ambien. Sleeping pills can produce mind-altering effects that lead to continued abuse.

Learn how to treat sleeping pill addiction.

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