Prescription Drug AbuseMillions of Americans suffer from substance abuse addictions. And while there are dozens of addictive legal and illegal drugs to choose from, certain substances seem to take center stage in popularity, demand, and addiction levels.

What drugs are most popular can change over time, depending on trends or other factors. For example, quaaludes were a very popular sedative and hypnotic medication that many people got addicted to in the 1960s. At the time, the drug was even referenced in hit songs by major artists. However, by the 1980s, widespread manufacturing of quaaludes was stopped due to rising increases in addiction. Today, quaaludes are not sold in the United States.

What are the Three Main Drugs Today?

As of 2021, the three main drugs in the United States are marijuana, painkillers, and cocaine. This list excludes alcohol and tobacco, which both have high rates of consumption as well.


A 2017 study found that 52% of Americans aged 18 or older have tried marijuana at least once. Additionally, approximately one in eight Americans say that they use marijuana regularly.

The recent legalization of marijuana in many states has made this substance more accessible for many. This has likely driven up people’s willingness to try marijuana and use it more regularly.

While not as addictive as other substances, it is possible to become addicted to marijuana. Some individuals believe marijuana is safer because you can’t overdose on it, but it doesn’t come without risk. Most notably, there is a deep concern about marijuana use at too early of an age. If adolescents use marijuana regularly, it can impact their brain development. One study that looked at marijuana users between the ages of 16-18 found that these individuals “demonstrated slower processing speed, poorer verbal learning and memory, and sequencing abilities.”

Additionally, using marijuana at an early age increases the risk of addiction. Studies estimate that nine percent of people who use marijuana will develop an addiction. This number rises to 17% for people who start using marijuana in their teen years.


Painkillers like Oxycodon, Vicodin, and codeine are prescribed by a medical professional to treat pain. These drugs are meant only to be used as needed, with the patient stopping when the pain goes away or becomes manageable. Unfortunately, painkillers are very addictive. They produce a sensation in the brain that can make a person feel warm, content, or numb.

Opioid painkillers are used in such substantial quantities in the United States that an “opioid epidemic” has been declared. Some of the shocking statistics around opioid use in America are:

  • Approximately 21-29% of people who are prescribed opioids for chronic pain end up misusing them
  • 4-6% of people who misuse opioids end up transitioning to heroin
  • An estimated 80% of people who use heroin first started by misusing prescription medication


In 2014, 1.5 million Americans aged 12 or older reported using cocaine. That number, roughly 0.6% of the population, had remained stable from 2009-2014.

For those who use cocaine, addiction is often imminent. Cocaine is a highly addictive substance. It can make people feel energized, confident, and excited. For this reason, cocaine is often used as a party drug. In some instances, individuals use cocaine to focus at work.

`Unfortunately, the regular use of cocaine is dangerous and comes with many risks. Some of these risks include:

  • Stroke or heart attack
  • Overdose
  • Addiction
  • Emotional issues, such as mood swings and paranoia

When people are surrounded by people who use drugs frequently, they’re usually more susceptible to drug use. However, just because those around you frequently use drugs without getting hurt doesn’t mean it’s risk-free. Drugs can lead to addiction, health problems, and can be life-threatening. The first step is to understand these risks and to seek professional help if you think you’ve developed a substance abuse addiction.