The Most Abused Substances & How to Spot Abuse

Substance use and abuse is a rapidly growing problem in the United States. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 19.7 million American adults (aged 12 and older) battled a substance use disorder in 2017. This number has grown in the past three years. 


Substance abuse could signify either the use of illegal drugs or misuse of legal substances such as: alcohol, prescription medicines, and other legal substances. Since these substances are easily attainable, it is wise to know what the most abused materials are and how to spot the red flags of use and abuse. Here are a few of the top substances and warning signs that there is a problem. 


Most Abused Substances & Related Signs of Use

There is a growing trend in our society in regards to substance abuse. It is the ever-increasing number of prescription drugs that are being misused and abused. 

Prescription Medicines 

The top prescription medicines that are meant for other uses that are now being used for a quick high include:

  • Amphetamines are stimulants that doctors ordinarily prescribe to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. Sadly abusing or misusing these drugs can cause high blood pressure, seizures, heart attack, stroke, paranoia, aggressiveness, and hallucinations.
  • Hydrocodone, or the brand name Vicodin, is available in combination with other ingredients. It is an opioid pain medicine and it’s among the most abused prescription drugs. Misusing this drug can lead to excessive side effects like drowsiness, dizziness and nausea, as well as confusion, low blood pressure, unconsciousness, coma, and even premature death. 
  • Oxycodone is also a narcotic opioid that is meant to reduce pain after surgery or due to chronic pain. Unfortunately, when it is misused it can be lethal. 
  • Benzodiazepines are central nervous system depressants which slow down brain and nervous system activity. There are many name-brand formulas of this drug that can cause confusion, dizziness, impaired coordination and memory, and low blood pressure.


The problem with alcohol is that it is widely available and legal to anyone over 21 in most states. It is fairly difficult to know when an individual is drinking too much and too often outside of behaviors and patterns that loved ones may notice and see as a sign (or signs) of abuse. These signs of abuse may include: blacking out, behavioral changes, an inability to stop drinking, becoming increasingly isolated, mood changes and swings, and ignoring responsibilities. For a complete list of signs and red flags check out the Alcohol Rehab Guide


While a growing number of states have decriminalized and legalized medicinal and recreational use of marijuana, it still can be psychologically addictive and cause problems on the job and at home. In our line of work in the commercial driving industry, marijuana can be just as deadly when used behind the wheel. Driving while high on pot is just as dangerous as drunk driving. 



According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heroin abuse is actually on the decline but still a huge problem in our society today. While heroine may give an immediate feeling of a high, it is highly addictive and can be deadly if an overdose occurs. Check out their site for signs of abuse and how to treat a serious heroin addiction. 

While there are hundreds of drugs and prescription medicines that can be abused, these are just the tip of the iceberg. Check out our site on abuse, how to spot it, and education courses that can help.