Information About Commonly Abused Drugs

Drugs Listed By Popularity in the U.S.

Worried Eyes
Worried Eyes.

An estimated 19.9 million people in the United States currently abuse drugs, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). These drugs fall into nine categories including the use of marijuana, cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens and inhalants; and the nonmedical use of prescription-type pain relievers, tranquilizers, stimulants, and sedatives.

These drugs are listed below in the order of their popularity in the United States from the most popular to the least.

Use of alcohol and tobacco products, while illegal for youths, is not included in NSDUH survey data.


Marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug in the United States with more than 14 million current issues. Marijuana is sometimes called a gateway drug because it tends to be the first illegal drug teens use. Marijuana is a green or gray mixture of dried, shredded flowers and leaves of the hemp plant Cannabis sativa. There are more than 200 slang terms for marijuana.


The second-largest drug problem in the U.S. today is the nonmedical use of prescription-type pain relievers, tranquilizers, stimulants, and sedatives. the "nonmedical" use of these drugs is defined as use without a prescription or simply use for the experience or feeling the drugs caused.


Also included in the psychotherapeutics category of drugs in the NSDUH survey is methamphetamine, an illicit drug made from ingredients including over-the-counter medications. Methamphetamines, especially crystal methamphetamine, pose specific health threats, especially if they are taken intravenously.


An estimated 2.1 million people in the U.S. currently use cocaine or crack cocaine. Cocaine can be snorted, injected and even smoked in some forms of the drug. In all cases, cocaine is a strong central nervous system stimulant which affects the brain's processing of dopamine.


Hallucinogens include a variety of substances including LSD, PCP, peyote, mescaline, psilocybin mushrooms and others, all of which can be abused. An estimated one million people in the U.S. are current users of hallucinogens.


Another drug included in the NSDUH's hallucinogens category is Ecstasy or MDMA (3,4-methylendioxymethamphetamine). MDMA, also called Molly, Ecstasy, or XTC on the street, is a synthetic, psychoactive, mind-altering drug with hallucinogenic and amphetamine-like properties.


Inhalants are breathable chemical vapors that produce psychoactive (mind-altering) effects which are often abused by young people because they are not illegal and are easily accessible. An estimated 600,000 people use inhalants each month.


Although illegal and very addicting, heroin use has, unfortunately, has made something of a comeback as a "chic" drug among today's young people who snort or smoke it instead of injecting it. About 200,000 people currently use heroin in the U.S.

Getting Help

If you have a problem with drugs or are addicted, you can get help. There are many resources available to help you kick the habit and gain control over your life. You might want to seek professional treatment or join a mutual support group.

If you have already stopped using drugs, you might want to see our Tips for Staying Clean and Sober.


Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of Applied Studies (2008). "Results from the 2007 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings" (NSDUH Series H-34, DHHS Publication No. SMA 08-4343). Rockville, MD.

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