Most Frequently Abused Substances And Their Effects

It is quite difficult to gauge the extent of drug abuse. However, we are all aware that wherever you are in the world, there are people who use drugs. From bars and restaurants to corners and neighborhoods, drug and alcohol use is visibly part of our culture. Here’s a credible list of estimates from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, as to which substances people abuse the most.


As per a 2012 survey, 69 million Americans who were in the 12 and above range were presently smoking tobacco. This was highest between 21 and 25. In the age group of 12-17 who smoked, more than 50% also used illicit drugs.

Up until today, cigarette smoking remains to be the primary preventable cause of death in the United States, and the threat of dying from it has increased massively within the last 50 years.

According to Sibu P. Saha, MD, MBA, FICA et al., “the production of cigarettes continues at a steady pace mainly to meet export demands, which continue to rise due to increasing tobacco use in the rest of the world, especially in far eastern and southeastern Asia.” They added that “on the basis of consumption and disease incidence trends, it is predicted that there will be an epidemic of tobacco-related diseases in various countries of the world in the next 20 to 30 years.”

The long-term use of tobacco has shown to be dangerous for the active as well as the passive smoker (the one who smells the smoke from a distance). It affects almost all of the organs in the body. Among the most common diseases caused by long-term cigarette smoking is a stroke, heart disease, diabetes, and lung cancer, among others.



Out of the 135 million people who are alcohol drinkers, 86 million of those are alcohol abusers. These abusers include underage drinkers, binge drinkers, and heavy drinkers. As it is, alcohol is still the most abused substance in the United States. More than 80% of first-time drinkers are under 21 years old. The long-term effects of alcohol as observed in women who consume one alcoholic beverage a day and both men and women over 65 years old who consume two drinks a day include liver damage, heart disease, and pancreatitis.

“A glass a day may do little damage to your overall health. But if the habit grows or if you find yourself having a hard time stopping after just one glass, the cumulative effects can add up,” says Elain Luo, MD.

On the other hand, alcohol abuse does have short-term adverse effects. It hinders one from making valid decisions because of its depressant factor. For pregnant women who drink alcohol, she is risking her unborn child to suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome, a debilitating pediatric disorder that can result in vision abnormalities, mental illnesses, and other long-term problems.


Derived from the plant Cannabis sativa, this hallucinogen is the most popularly abused drug in America. That is according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. When smoked, it targets the central nervous system, raising one’s blood pressure and heart rate. As it dulls one’s memory, it can also stimulate the brain to the point that some users become paranoid when they smoke too much.


Death is not common among marijuana users, but just like cigarette smoking, long-term marijuana abuse may lead to heart disease, respiratory problems, and chronic lung infections. Marijuana has also shown to contain carcinogens. Unluckily for parents, marijuana remains to be the most commonly abused drug among the high school population.

Prescription Drugs

Painkillers that contain oxycodone like Oxycontin and Percocet, and those that contain hydrocodone, such as Vicodin, are among the most abused prescription medicines in the United States. The effects of these painkillers are targeted on the brain, which causes one to feel good about themselves and want pleasure from sex, eating and other positive activities. When used in much higher doses, the brain can lose its crucial functions, particularly in respiration, and the person can immediately go into a coma and die.



In America, there are about 1.6 million cocaine users and 1.1 million of these are dependent on this highly stimulating drug. It is also becoming popular in the 12-year-old and above range, as there have been more than 600,000 cocaine users from this group alone last 2012.

Cocaine is a very powerful and addictive drug. It gives users a stimulating and ecstatic feeling when it is sniffed, smoked, or taken by mouth. The euphoria is like a fleeting moment that may last only in less than an hour. It has several detrimental effects on the heart, and even in little doses, one can die a sudden death.

Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD added also that “alcohol use can exacerbate the effects of the cocaine high, and increased alcohol use is associated with increased cocaine use and cocaine intoxication in users.”


Although the rate of drug abuse in the world is ever-changing, it doesn’t change the fact that still millions of people are affected by it, including their families and significant others. Addiction is a widespread disease that needs the community and the government’s sincere focus and attention. People who are struggling with it must know that there is treatment and that recovery is possible.

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