Drug Statistics and Facts Surrounding the Five Most Commonly Abused Substances

Since the middle of the 20th century, the world has seen an increase in the number of abused substances. Highly popularized by music and other media sources in the 1960s, the use of illegal drugs is still on the rise today.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Study on Drug Use and Health, the percentage of people in the United States who had used an illegal drug in the month proceeding the survey rose from around 19.6 million in 2002 to approximately 26.4 million in 2013. With nearly 10 percent of the population considered as current drug users, it can be helpful to know the most common substances of abuse, as well as facts and statistics about each substance.

Drug Use in the World Today

Drug Statistics and Facts Surrounding the Five Most Commonly Abused Substances Substance abuse in today’s world is much more common than most would like to think. Teens have stated that through recent years, drugs are continually becoming more easily obtainable. This may be due to a few things, such as the option to purchase drugs on the internet. According to the 2014 Global Drugs Survey – a huge survey that was completed by nearly 80,000 people worldwide – an average of 20 percent of respondents had purchased drugs online at least once.

Teens also reported that the most common way to obtain drugs, specifically prescription medication, was from a friend, acquaintance or the medicine cabinet in their own homes. With the amount of medication prescribed worldwide continually increasing each and every year, the ease of access to these substances is also increasing. Prescription drugs are among the most commonly abused substances in today’s society, and that’s likely due to the fact that they’re so easily obtainable.

In addition to the increasing number of ways to gain possession of legal and illegal substances, recent years have also produced new forms of drugs. Typically referred to as synthetic, these substances are often just as dangerous as the drug in its original form. While not as popular as main street drugs, synthetic substances are continually being altered into new forms, providing an ever-changing drug market.

The Five Substances Most Commonly Abused

When someone typically thinks about a substance abuse disorder, the substances that most often come to mind are “hard drugs,” such as cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin. However, substances of abuse aren’t always illegal drugs. Legal substances like alcohol and tobacco are widely abused around the world.


Although a majority of people don’t consider alcohol a substance of abuse, numerous alcohol and drug statistics prove otherwise. SAMHA provides additional statistics, stating that more than half of adults aged 21 and over drink alcohol, with approximately 6.6 percent of those meeting the alcohol use disorder criteria. Though generally considered safer because it’s legal, alcohol is responsible for more deaths among teenagers than all other drugs combined.

Alcohol is a factor is all three of the leading causes of death among teenagers – homicide, suicide and accidents. The Foundation for a Drug-Free World states that nearly 40 percent of all traffic deaths and approximately 40 percent of all violent crimes involve alcohol. It’s also widely believed that alcohol abuse often leads to the abuse of additional substances. Drug statistics also provided by the Foundation for a Drug-Free World claim that young people who drink alcohol (before the legal age) are 7.5 times more likely to abuse illegal drugs, and an unbelievable 50 times more likely to use cocaine than those who don’t drink at a young age.


Marijuana is also sometimes considered a “gateway drug.” Often referred to by pot, weed or grass, marijuana is the most commonly abused illegal substance. Typically rolled into a cigarette-like shape called a joint, this hallucinogen is smoked in order to achieve its effects. While most people have some knowledge of marijuana and its effects, its dangers are nearly always underestimated. It’s estimated that nearly 250,000 emergency room visits each year are marijuana-related; and after alcohol, marijuana is the most commonly found substance in the systems of drivers involved in fatal car accidents. Using this substance at a young age also highly increases the risk of developing other substance abuse disorders later in life by as much as around 60 percent.

Prescription Drugs

Drug Statistics and Facts Surrounding the Five Most Commonly Abused Substances As previously stated, the abuse of prescription drugs is on the rise – especially among teenagers. Prescription medications are considered one of the most easily obtainable substances of abuse, making them even more dangerous. The ability to so easily obtain these drugs means that in today’s world, teens and young adults are more likely to have abused a prescription medication than an illegal street drug.

When asked about the safety of different substances, nearly all young individuals stated they thought prescription medications were safer than other drugs because they were given by a doctor. However, that certainly isn’t the case. In reality, prescription medications account for a higher percentage of overdose deaths (45 percent) than cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine combined (39 percent). In addition to the obvious dangers of consuming these drugs, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University states that those who abuse prescription medication are anywhere from 12 to 20 times more likely to abuse an illegal street drug later in life.


A drug that’s also highly popular among young people is ecstasy. The desired effects of this drug include lowered inhibitions, making it extremely popular in the club and party scenes. Though it has been around since the early 1900s, ecstasy is much more potent today than ever before. This drug, when mixed with alcohol as it so commonly is, can very easily be deadly. Conceivably, what makes this substance so dangerous is that because of lowered inhibitions, people aren’t aware of their actions – making them more likely to use other substances, which can create a deadly combination. Drug statistics also show that those who use ecstasy are approximately 92 percent more likely to use other illegal drugs, such as methamphetamine or cocaine.


Perhaps the most highly addictive and dangerous illegal drug is heroin. Millions of people worldwide are addicted to this drug because they simply cannot overcome its grasp. Heroin is considered to have one of the worst withdrawal periods of any drug. Facing the pain of this period deters many people from trying to quit. While opiates, mainly heroin, account for nearly 20 percent of drug treatment admissions in the United States, very few of those individuals successfully complete treatment and remain sober. It’s often reported that individuals become addicted to heroin after just one use, making it one of the most dangerous drugs in the world and likely the most addictive.

The Future Outlook on Drug Abuse

Although it seems like drug abuse in the world today is spiraling out of control, the future outlook on the problem is a bit more positive. With more available treatment facilities than ever before, help is just around the corner for those who need it. Today’s society has come a long way in providing the urgent help needed by so many who struggle with substance abuse.

If you or someone you know is struggling with any type of substance abuse problem, please feel free to call the helpline at 800-447-9081 for information or guidance.

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