Every year, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) conducts the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). This report gathers statistics for ages 12 and up and assesses trends regarding substance use and mental health in the United States.

Each fall, SAMHSA releases data collected the previous year. The most recent study reveals the top 15 most-used drugs by Americans in 2016:

Top 15 Most-Used Drugs in America in 2016

  1. Alcohol – 136.7 million
  2. Cigarettes – 63.4 million
  3. Marijuana – 23.9 million
  4. Pain Relievers – 3.4 million
  5. Tranquilizers – 1.9 million
  6. Cocaine – 1.8 million
  7. Stimulants – 1.7 million
  8. Methamphetamine – 667,000
  9. Ecstasy – 619,000
  10. Inhalants – 600,000
  11. Sedatives – 497,000
  12. Heroin – 475,000
  13. Crack – 432,000
  14. LSD – 374,000
  15. PCP – 21,000

In many ways, these numbers are consistent with previous years. However, last year’s results from the NSDUH do show some changes, including increased and decreased numbers for some substance.

Top 15 Most Used Drugs in America in 2015

  1. Alcohol – 138.2 million
  2. Cigarettes – 63.9 million
  3. Marijuana – 22.2 million
  4. Pain Relievers – 3.7 million
  5. Cocaine – 1.9 million
  6. Tranquilizers – 1.8 million
  7. Stimulants – 1.6 million
  8. Methamphetamine – 897,000
  9. Ecstasy – 557,000
  10. Inhalants – 527,000
  11. Sedatives – 446,000
  12. Crack – 394,000
  13. LSD – 352,000
  14. Heroin – 329,000
  15. PCP – 25,000

Alcohol Secures Its Spot — Again

As it is every year, alcohol has a firmly cemented place as the most-used drug in America. It is available in most grocery stores and gas station convenience stores, and restaurants have menus dedicated specifically to alcoholic beverages. Alcohol seems to be everywhere you look; you don’t have to think twice to find it.

Unless they know someone who abuses alcohol, most people forget that alcohol is actually a drug. The seemingly endless barrage of advertisements on television, billboards and in magazines glamorizes alcohol use as fun or classy. But when alcohol takes center stage in your life or the life of someone you love, you realize how quickly the fun can wear off.

Marijuana Legislation Results in Increased Use

As medical and recreational marijuana legislation continues to spread nationwide, marijuana saw a significant spark in use between 2015 and 2016. As it finds its way onto additional ballots each year, we will likely continue to see an increase in use. It will be interesting to note whether or not marijuana use eventually surpasses cigarettes.

Impact of the Opioid Epidemic Continues

Pain relievers are the fourth most misused drug by a margin of nearly 2 million people, despite the decrease in use between 2015 and 2016. Thankfully, the decline may positively reflect recent legislation regarding prescription painkillers. The heightened awareness of the high risk for painkiller addiction may also have an impact on the decreased number this past year.

Heroin Rises in the Ranks

Conversely, while painkiller use declined, heroin use increased with over 100,000 additional users in 2016. Since heroin tends to be a replacement for pain relievers when the prescription alternative becomes harder to find or more expensive, the heightened heroin use may be a symptom the lowered painkiller use.

Unfortunately, heroin reacts on the same receptors as prescription opioid medications, making it an effective alternative. However, the inconsistency between batches as well as the overall higher potency of the drug results in it being an incredibly dangerous switch to make.

Using the Data to Draw Conclusions

Hopefully SAMHSA’s work each year on the National Survey on Drug Use and Health continues to inform both researchers and individuals on the prevalence of substance use in our society. Although the numbers may seem miniscule for certain substances, the fact that so many drugs are still actively used shows that there is still work to be done to lessen and eradicate drug use.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.