Over half of people in the U.S., ages 12 and older, have tried illegal drugs at least once. Such drugs include marijuana, cocaine, LSD, ecstasy, methamphetamine, and heroin. Over 10% of the same population also struggles with an alcohol use disorder.
Keep reading to learn statistics of specific substance use disorders and who is most likely to be affected by them.
Alcohol use disorder, also called alcoholism or alcohol addiction, affects millions of people each year. Of Americans who try alcohol at least once, approximately 6.7% will develop an alcohol use disorder, the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics (NCDAS) has found.
Alcoholism affects individuals differently, with effects that range from moderate to severe. The disorder is characterized by an inability to stop drinking despite experiencing negative consequences.
In 2021, 28.6 million adults (ages 18 and older) in the U.S. had an alcohol use disorder. People who started drinking alcohol before the age of 15 were more than three times as likely to develop an alcohol abuse problem as people who began drinking at age 21 or later.
Opioid use disorder can occur in relation to both prescription and illicit opioids. Examples of legally prescribed opioids include codeine, morphine, and oxycodone. Heroin is an illicit and particularly dangerous opioid, as its production is entirely unregulated. Fentanyl is an opioid that is making its way into more batches of street drugs and leading to fatal overdose.
In the 1990s, doctors began prescribing opioids more frequently for the treatment of chronic pain despite knowing little about the risk of misuse and addiction. Since then, millions of Americans have developed opioid use disorders, many of whom began taking opioids as prescribed by their doctors.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 2.7 million people in the United States have an opioid use disorder. Each year, over 10 million people in the U.S. misuse opioids, and nearly 50,000 people suffer a fatal opioid overdose, shares NCDAS.
Fortunately, opioid use disorder can be treated through a combination of medication-assisted treatment, such as medication for opioid use disorder (MOUSD), and behavioral therapies.
Benzodiazepines are a type of sedative medication prescribed for the short-term treatment of various anxiety, seizure, and sleep disorders. They effectively decrease activity in the nervous system and should only be taken as prescribed, as addiction and fatal overdose can happen. The most commonly prescribed benzodiazepines include lorazepam, clonazepam, diazepam, and alprazolam.
In 2014 to 2015, over 30 million people in the U.S. used benzodiazepines. During the same period, approximately 5 million people were estimated to have misused the drugs.
Benzodiazepines can be very habit-forming. They interact dangerously with other substances, particularly alcohol, and can depress breathing to the point of a fatal overdose.
To be taken safely and to avoid the risk of addiction, benzodiazepines should be prescribed in minimal doses, not taken daily, and only consumed as needed. Most doctors only prescribe benzodiazepines for short-term use.
Antidepressants are a primary and frequently used treatment for depression. From 2015 to 2018, over 13% of adults in the U.S. were prescribed an antidepressant medication. The rate of antidepressant prescriptions increased with age and for women. Women ages 60 and older saw the highest level of antidepressant use, at over 24%.
Antidepressant misuse alone is not typically known to lead to a substance use disorder. The majority of people who misuse antidepressants suffer from both a mood and substance use disorder.
At high doses, antidepressants can produce a psychostimulant effect. Antidepressant abuse can cause seizures, mental confusion, and symptoms of psychosis.
In 2020, 1.4 million Americans aged 12 and older tried hallucinogens for the first time. Over 7 million people reported using hallucinogens that year.
Types of hallucinogens include LSD, peyote, mescaline, mushrooms (psilocybin), PCP, ecstasy, ketamine, DMT, and salvia. Young adults, ages 18 to 25, were most likely to use hallucinogens (7.3%), followed by adults aged 26 or older (2%), and adolescents ages 12 to 17 (1.5%).
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) found that 8% of young adults (ages 19 to 30) used hallucinogens in 2021. Of all Americans (ages 12 and older), approximately 2.6% reported using hallucinogens in the past year. In 2020, it was estimated that just 0.2% of people ages 12 and older had a hallucinogen use disorder.
As much as 45% of Americans have tried marijuana at least once in their lives, with nearly 17% of Americans, or 55 million people, reporting regular marijuana use. Of the people who regularly use marijuana, approximately 10% of them develop a marijuana use disorder.
As legalization of marijuana increases across the country, the substance has become more socially acceptable. The majority of Americans believe marijuana is less harmful than alcohol, tobacco, or prescription painkillers. Still, regular marijuana users can develop a mental dependency on the drug, and this can lead to a marijuana use disorder.
The most concerning trends of marijuana use may be among young people. Nearly 40% of high school students have tried marijuana. Youth under the age of 12 who try marijuana for the first time are twice as likely to experience mental illness as people who wait until the age of 18 or older to initially try the drug.
Both prescription stimulant medications and illicit stimulant use can lead to addiction. Prescription stimulants include Adderall and Ritalin, and they are most commonly prescribed for the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Illicit stimulants include ecstasy, cocaine, and methamphetamine.
The rate of stimulant misuse has increased in recent years. Results from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration’s (SAMHSA) 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) found that 5.1 million people (1.8%) who were at least 12 years old misused prescription stimulants in the prior year. Adults, ages 18 to 25, were the most likely to misuse prescription stimulants at a rate of 4.8%.
The rate of overdose deaths related to stimulant drug use has increased as well. From 2012 to 2019, the rate of fatal overdoses involving cocaine and other psychostimulants like methamphetamine increased. In 2019, the rate of overdose deaths involving cocaine tripled from what it was in 2012. The use of psychostimulants with abuse potential, like methamphetamine, increased by more than six times, from 0.8 deaths per 100,000 people to 5.0 deaths per 100,000 people.
Population & Demographic Statistics of Addiction
NCDAS data indicates that over 21% of Americans, ages 12 and older, have used illicit drugs or misused prescription medications in the last month. As many as 50% of people reported using illicit substances at some point during their life.
Children & Teenagers
Nearly half (47%) of adolescents report using some type of illicit drug before graduating from high school. Of children who first try drugs before the age of 13, 70% develop a substance use disorder within seven years. For youth who first try drugs after age 17, 27% will develop a substance use disorder.
Adults & Seniors
Young adults, ages 18 to 25, are the most likely to misuse drugs at 39%, followed by people ages 26 to 29 at 34%. Alcohol is the most commonly misused substance, followed by marijuana, and then opioids and prescription medications. As of 2018, an estimated 1 million Americans, ages 65 and older, had a substance use disorder.
Older adults are more susceptible to chronic conditions, and they are likely to receive multiple prescription medications, putting them at risk for unintentional drug misuse. Approximately 65% of adults over the age of 65 also report using alcohol, which is the leading cause for individuals of this age group to seek addiction treatment.
According to NCDAS, males are more likely than females to misuse prescription drugs or use illicit ones. Among males, 22% reported misusing substances in the past year compared to 17% of females.
However, women who use illicit drugs demonstrate an increased risk of suicide. Of women with substance use disorders over the age of 18, 5 million had thoughts of suicide, with over half a million women planning to act on their thoughts and 287,000 women having attempted suicide.
Substance abuse is seen across all ethnicities, though the rates of substance use disorders vary.
According to data collected through the NSDUH from 2015 to 2019, American Indian or Alaska Native people had the highest rate of substance use disorders at 11.2%, other than people who reported two or more races. White respondents indicated substance use disorders at 7.8%, followed by Black and Hispanic people, both at 7.1%, and Asian people at 4.1%. Across all categories of alcohol and substance abuse, Asian people had the lowest rates of substance use disorders.
Substance Abuse Treatment Statistics
Over 20 million Americans, ages 12 and older, are affected by substance use disorders, says NCDAS. However, not all those people get help.
Approximately 392,000 of 964,000 Americans in 2018 sought the substance abuse treatment they needed. The same year, over 5 million young adults, ages 18 to 25, needed treatment, but less than 2% of them received it. Similarly, over 15 million adults aged 26 and older needed treatment but just 3 million, or 1.4% received any.
In 2021, 94% of people with a substance use disorder did not receive any form of addiction treatment. Most of the people who did not receive treatment did not believe they needed it.
For the people who do seek treatment, recovery is possible. Approximately 7 in 10 adults with a substance use problem felt they were actively recovering or in recovery.
Getting Help for Substance Abuse
For the millions of Americans struggling with substance abuse, treatment is available. Approximately 38% of individuals with a substance use disorder also have a mental health condition, so treatment must address both issues. Someone can also suffer from addiction to multiple substances at once.
Substance use disorders impact physical health, mental well-being, personal relationships, and general life quality.
Seeking help for substance abuse as soon as possible helps to mitigate the harmful effects of addiction. Healthcare providers are great places to start. They can conduct substance use screenings and make referrals to appropriate treatment services. Contacting treatment facilities directly is also an option.
Detox and withdrawal, cognitive and behavioral therapies, and medication-assisted therapies are three primary components of addiction treatment. Treatment services can be provided through a variety of settings, including hospitals, clinics, inpatient and outpatient programs, and at home, in supportive situations.
To locate treatment centers and programs near you, visit SAMHSA’s Treatment Facility locator. Confidential, free, and anonymous information is offered to individuals searching for treatment for both mental health and substance use disorders. You may also call SAMHSA’s National Helpline (1-800-662-HELP) for treatment information and referrals.
Addiction treatment can be life-changing. Reach out for help today.
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