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Top 10 Drug Addictions in America

Published June 04, 2021 By Addiction Helpline America

Top 10 Drug Addictions in America - What To Know

In 2019, alcohol, marijuana and prescription painkillers, headed the list of top 10 addictions in America, in relation to substance abuse.

Those were the findings of the most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).

The substances have the power to induce feelings ranging from mild relaxation, to intense euphoria.

To sustain this 'high' people take more and more of the substance and addiction sets in, together with a range of serious health problems.

About 20.4 million Americans are currently battling a substance use disorder (SUD).

Because of its causes and effects, addiction is seen as a legitimate medical condition meriting the same treatment as for other proclaimed diseases.

Below are details of all the substances that made it to our list of top 10 drug addictions in America.

1. Alcohol

Alcohol is the number one addiction in America. The 2019 NSDUH found that of the 139.7 million people who drank alcohol, 14, 5 million were addicted to it , while 65,8 million were binge drinkers. Alcohol can legally be consumed by anyone over 21 and is easily available. This makes it open to abuse, even by adolescents.

Alcohol helps to increase dopamine, the brain chemical associated with pleasurable feelings. But overtime, it starts reducing the dopamine in the brain, forcing people to take more and more of it to feel the 'high'.

Alcohol abusers may experience effects such as:

  • hallucinations
  • palpitations
  • convulsions
  • memory loss

lack of coordination Further, the World Health Organization has linked alcohol addiction to 60 types of diseases, and to certain injuries and behaviors.

These include:

  • liver cirrhosis
  • breast and liver cancer
  • epilepsy
  • car accident
  • suicide
  • murder

Alcoholism may also lead to overdose and death.

How Much Alcohol Can You Safely Drink, then? The U.S. Dietary Guidelines (2020-2025) recommend that women take no more than 1 drink per day and men no more than 2.

2. Marijuana

With 48,2 million users, marijuana was the most widely used illegal drug in America in 2019. A total of 4.8 million people were addicted to marijuana.

Marijuana is popular because of its potency which induces a high state of euphoria in its users. This potency has increased by 60 percent in the last 10 years.

And, although marijuana use is illegal under state law, 15 states have legalized it. Furthermore, the cannabis market is massive and marijuana sales are expected to grow to $30 billion by 2023 and to reach more than $60 billion by 2025.

Long-term marijuana use causes a host of mental health issues including:

  • lack of focus and coordination
  • reduced decision-making skills
  • anxiety
  • palpitations
  • lung problems

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3. Prescription Painkillers

Of the 9.7 million people who used prescribed painkillers in 2019, as many as 1.4 million people were addicted to them.

The painkillers prevent the release of pain signals in the brain on the one hand, while facilitating the transmission of pleasure signals on the other.

Users take more of the painkiller or mix it with other drugs to boost their 'high'.

Withdrawal symptoms are uncomfortable and can be dangerous, so to avoid them, people continue with their addiction.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has classified prescription opioids which include methadone, fentanyl, OxyContin and Vicodin as Schedule II drugs.

This means it recognizes their potential for abuse, and the dangerous psychological and physical effects attached to them. The painkillers were obtained in a variety of ways in 2019.

These included:

  • prescription from a single doctor - 35.7 percent
  • prescriptions from 2 or more doctors - 1.1 percent
  • bought from strangers or drug dealers - 6.2 percent
  • freely given by friends or relatives - 37.0 percent
  • sold to by friends or relatives - 9.2 percent
  • stolen from friends or relatives - 4.6 percent.

4. Cocaine

Of the 5.5 million people who used cocaine in 2019, 1.0 million were found to have an addiction. Cocaine boosts a person's feelings of well-being and positivity.

It travels rapidly to the bloodstream and brain leading to a powerful but short-lived high. Snorting makes the high last a bit longer.

Cocaine is an illegal and unregulated drug obtained from the black market. Details of its origins, make up and ingredients, are unclear.

The long-term effects of cocaine addiction include:

  • seizures
  • heart disease
  • organ failure
  • overdose
  • death

5. Methamphetamine (Meth)

In 2019, a total of 1.0 million people were addicted to meth, an illegal synthetic drug similar in chemical structure to the legal stimulants, but having more potency.

It stimulates the central nervous system and in so doing, creates a feeling of extreme focus, clarity and energy in the user.

Its effects are prolonged and that accounts for its popularity with university students who want to stay up all night studying, or with all-night partygoers.

Meth cravings can be severe and can lead to more use and addiction.

Meth can create problems for the user in the following ways:

  • It's prolonged 'high' can cause long-term brain damage
  • It's unregulated, it's obtained on the black market, and its origins and ingredients are murky.
  • When mixed with other drugs, it's exceedingly powerful and more damaging. It can cause high body temperature spikes which in turn may cause seizures, collapse of the organs, and maybe death.

6. Fentanyl

Fentanyl is linked to overdose deaths. Research has shown that fentanyl and other synthetic opioids are responsible more for driving up overdose deaths, than increasing the number of drug users.

That's because street drugs are often laced with them unbeknown to the user. They were found to have contributed to a spike in overdose deaths in America between September 2019 and September 2020.

A total of 90,000 Americans lost their lives then. This was 19 000 more deaths than in the 12 months before. The figures were also driven by the Covid pandemic.

Fentanyl can be prescribed for chronic pain and the euphoria it gives rise to can lead to addiction.

However, it is the synthetic variety that has mainly been cited in overdose deaths.

Some crucial facts about fentanyl are that:

  • It is 50 times more potent than heroin
  • It has 100 times the potency of morphine.
  • Carfentanil (a fentanyl analog) has 10,000 times the potency of morphine.

  • The high potency level of fentanyl and the speed with which it gets to the brain, make it a very dangerous drug.

    It can cause a person's breathing to slow down or stop altogether, leading to less and less oxygen reaching the brain. The result is lasting brain damage, coma or death.

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    7. Prescription Sedatives

    Of the 5.9 million people who took prescribed sedatives in 2019, 681,000 developed an addiction.

    Prescribed sedatives are used to treat sleep disorders, anxiety, panic attacks, seizures, and several stress disorders.

    These sedatives include:

    • barbiturates
    • sleeping pills
    • benzodiazepines
    • muscle relaxants
    • various anxiety pills

    Prescription sedatives have the potential to be abused of the pleasurable effect they produce, and because of the many prescriptions availed. People start taking them to excess or in combination with other drugs.

    When abused, sedatives slow down brain action and this can lead to confusion, balance problems, memory loss, slowed breathing, coma and death.

    8. Stimulants

    As many as 4.9 million people were using stimulants in 2019 and of these, 558,000 developed an addiction.

    Stimulants, which include the amphetamine Ritalin, are normally used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy (uncontrolled deep sleep episodes.

    They stimulate the effects of brain neurotransmitters associated with pleasure, and the functioning of the heart.

    People using these stimulants, say they feel a burst of euphoria along with increases in heart rate, blood pressure and breathing.

    Tolerance happens quickly and users find themselves highly addicted especially those who do not have ADHD and narcolepsy.

    The over-stimulation of the central nervous system can eventually lead to psychosis, palpitations, heart failure and seizures.

    9. Heroin

    The number of people with a heroin use disorder in 2019 was 438,000. Heroin powder is an illegal opioid that's snorted or injected. It's highly addictive and extremely dangerous especially when mixed with other substances.

    Heroin transforms into morphine in the body, resulting in a person feeling extremely euphoric and relaxed. In no time at all, they develop a tolerance to the drug and addiction sets in.

    Overtime, heroin use can lead to:

    • collapsed veins among injectors
    • damaged nose tissue among sniffers
    • diseases such as hepatitis B and C, and HIV and AIDS through sharing of needles
    • problems with the lungs, kidneys and heart.

    Heroin withdrawal symptoms can be particularly severe. This makes people reluctant to give up heroin. However, they can be safely and effectively treated at an inpatient rehab facility.

    10. Inhalants

    Around 140,000 people in America have an inhalant addiction. These are a set of dangerous and highly toxic substances that alter the functioning of the mind. They are typically abused through sniffing.

    They include:

    • nail polish remover
    • markers
    • solvents
    • deodorant
    • paint
    • hair spray
    • detergents and other home cleaning products.

    Inhalant addiction can damage the essential organs. But even a single episode of inhalant abuse can lead to immediate heart failure and death because oxygen levels can be lowered to suffocation point.

    Although substance abuse is dangerous as shown in our list of top 10 addictions in America, it's both manageable and treatable.

    To break the cycle of addiction, start by admitting that you have a problem, and then take positive steps to enroll in a treatment facility in America.

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