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Article Summary

Drug Abuse Statistics In The United States

The abuse of drugs is a major problem in every part of the world - with more than 5.3% of the entire global population reporting that they engaged in drug abuse in 2015. However, the problem varies from one country to another because different countries have different laws on drugs, enforce different penalties when these laws are broken, experience varying substance availability, and have unique cultural perspectives on these mind altering and intoxicating substances.

The United States, in particular, has had a long, intensive, and interesting history of drug abuse - and the country has been taking measures to fight an official war on drugs.

To this end, the number of Americans who have used intoxicating substances in their lifetime tends to vary according to the type of drug. For instance, 119 million people in the US reporting that they used marijuana at one point in their life while 14.5 million used meth.

The increase in marijuana use would not be surprising especially given the fact that some states have legalized the substance as well as the rising public support for the drug. However, more addictive substances have seen unrelated and surprising increases in abuse. For instance, the total number of people who abused heroin in the past year has been increasing annually since 2007 - eventually reaching an all-time high of 948000 in 2016.

Over the past few years, the lifetime prevalence of illicit drug use by adolescents in grades 12, 10, and 8 is still relatively stable - at about 32.6% in 2016. Luckily, it is significantly lower than it was in the 1990s when the highest reported use was at 43.3% in 1997.

This is not surprising given the fact that the availability of intoxicating substances has seen a decline in recent years with about 28.6% of teens in 12th grade reporting that it was fairly easy to very ease to get hold of cocaine in 2016 compared to the 46.5% of the same population that was interviewed in 2006.

On the other hand, the rate of death related to drug abuse and overdose in 2016 varied from one state to another. However, the national average was at 14 drug overdose deaths per 100000 population.

These overdoses involved traditional illicit substances as well as misused prescription medications - particularly opioids - the abuse of which is increasingly becoming a serious problem in the United States.

To this end, the importance of treatment and prevention is undeniable especially given the fact that there has been a significant increase in the use and abuse of certain dangerous and addictive drugs accompanied by relatively high rates of overdose death in certain states.

In 2014, the total number of facilities providing substance abuse treatment, detox, and rehabilitation - with a particular focus on alcohol and drug abuse - was reported to be at 13,873 which was a significant decreased from the total of 14,152 centers that were reported in 2013.

U.S. Drug Abuse In Numbers

A new federal report by SAMHSA (the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) estimates that close to 21 million people aged 12 and above in the United States had a problem with substance use in 2015. Among these people, 3 out of every 4 - around 15.7 million individuals - had substance use disorders directly related to alcohol.

Additionally, 1 out of every 3 people with substance use disorders abused drugs while 1 out of every 8 individuals had disorders that involved a combination of alcohol and other intoxicating and mind altering substances.

From this report, the government used the definition of addiction and substance use disorder as explained by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) published by the APA (American Psychiatric Association).

Therefore, you might be considered to have a drug abuse problem if you have strong urges to use your preferred intoxicating substances or you get to a point in your life where you are unable to control your substance use even if it leads you to engage in risky behavior and impair you in social situations.

According to the same report, it is now estimated that 27.1 million people in the country used illegal drugs within the past month. These national estimates were based on findings from the 2015 NSDUH (National Survey on Drug Use and Health) that interviewed 67,500 Americans.

Additionally, this survey reported that about 1 out of every 12 Americans needed substance abuse treatment in 2015 but only a paltry 11% of these individuals actually receive the treatment they required.

Understanding Drug Abuse In The United States

The report further showed that marijuana was the most commonly abused drug in the country. This is given the fact that 87% of the total number of people who reported having abused drugs said that they abused marijuana.

Additionally, more people reported through the SAMHSA survey that they were using the substance in 2015 than the total number of individuals who used it from 2002 to 2013.

However, the use of this drug did not increase among teens. Rather, the total increase was largely driven by more adults aged 26 and above taking marijuana. For instance, 4% of this population who were surveyed reported in 2002 that they had used it while the number rose to 6.5% in 2015.

On the other hand, among those who reported to abusing drugs within the past year it was found that prescription medications were the most commonly abused. According to the same report, it is estimated that 3.8 million Americans currently abuse prescription painkillers.

In the same year (2015), it was estimated that 830,000 Americans abused heroin - which was more than double the total number of users reported in 2002. However, there was a slight decrease in the use of the drug between 2014 and 2015 even though this decrease wasn't statistically significant (which means that it might have been as a result of chance).

Additionally, over 300,000 people knowingly abused Fentanyl within the past year. This prescription pain reliever is close to 100 times as potent as morphine and has been linked to numerous fatal overdoses in the United States. In most cases, those who abuse heroin might unwittingly use fentanyl since some drug dealers may lace their batch of heroin with fentanyl to increase its effects.

However, these findings also suggested that prevention efforts have been working against substance abuse. For instance, even though alcohol is problematic among teens, the rate of adolescents who reported drinking the substance in the past month has been decreasing significantly over the past 13 years. In 2002, the total number of teens who reported that they drunk alcohol within the past month was at 17.6%. In 2015, this number had gone down to about 9.6%.

The same report also showed a significant reduction in nicotine abuse and cigarette smoking among adolescents. In 2015, 1 out of every 20 teenagers reported that they had smoked within the past moth - which was a major decreased from the 1 in 8 who reported the same in 2002.

How American Drug Abuse Statistics Work

The recent findings in the epidemiology of SUDs (substance use disorders) has proven to be substantial and now provides important insight into the conditions as well as the impact they have on public health.

In the United States, selected highlights are reviewed to focus on the most recent findings to empower the systemic monitoring of changing trends in drug abuse. Additionally, researchers examine the comorbidity and relationship between these disorders and other mental health issues and psychiatric disorders, as well as how drug abuse interacts with high risk behaviors as well as the spread of Hepatitis and HIV.

Research into the drug abuse epidemiology has also been taking new directions, especially given that new methodologies are now integrated into these epidemiologic studies to ensure that people can clearly understand the complex nature of drug abuse and the disorders that tend to accompany it.

Multifactorial in nature, these models are used to understand substance use disorders as well as to build on the foundations laid out by traditional research on drug abuse as well as empower modern trends in epidemiology. They have also been increasingly incorporating more knowledge in the methodologies used in social epidemiology, neuroscience, and molecular genetics.

Today, most of the data on drug abuse is derived from a variety of surveys. The most important among these include large scale surveys of the population, including but not limited to NSDUH (the National Survey on Drug Use and Health) that is based in households as well as MTF (the Monitoring the Future) study that is based in schools. To this end, the drug abuse statistics in the United States show that there have been shifts and changes in the trends affecting illicit drug abuse.

The first time drug abuse reached a peak was in the late 70s before declining significantly all through the 80s. However, it started rising again in the 90s and has been relatively stable over the past few years.

Although there were some variations in the rates of drug abuse reported by major surveys, these studies still show that such drug use is still common and most people start using during their teenage.

According to data from the NSDUH, for instance, about 46.1% of all Americans above the age of 12 (which is an estimate of around 114 million people) had tried using illicit drugs at one point or the other in the lives.

While 40.6% of Americans tried marijuana, only about 29.7% used other illegal intoxicating substances. This shows that marijuana is one of the most widely abused drug in the country.

With respect to the emergence of drug abuse among teens, the MTF for 2008 reported that 19.6 percent of all students had tried using illicit drugs by 8th grade, 34.1 percent by 10th grade, and 47.4 percent by 12th grade.

This recent findings from a MTF study additionally showed that marijuana is still the most widely abused illicit substance - with 42.6 percent of 12th graders, 29.9 percent of 10th graders, and 14.6 percent of 8th graders reporting that they had tried it at one point or the other.

A close to universal finding from all these studies is that most people tend to start using intoxicating substances in their teens before their drug abuse progresses into the young adulthood before declining gradually.

The other important finding from these ongoing studies and surveys shows that the total number of Americans who reported abusing prescription medications has seen an increase in recent years.

More particularly, the past couple of years have witnessed a rather marked rise in the abuse of prescription opioid drugs - such as hydrocodone and oxycodone - as well as substantial increases in the problems that are commonly linked to such drug abuse - including but not limited to nonfatal and fatal opioid overdose.

In 2018, marijuana was still the most commonly abused drug among 12th graders. However, prescription medications emerged as the 2nd most common category of drugs with a past year prevalence of 15.4%.

Most of the attention that is now being paid to the epidemic involving the abuse of prescription drugs is as a result of more people and authorities recognizing that the problem also affects American teens.

In recent years, however, there has been an increase in marijuana use - particularly among young Hispanics and African Americans - an increase that might only be related to the rising potency of marijuana sold on the street.

Additionally, changes in the epidemiology of meth abuse has seen continuing rising rates particularly in rural parts of the country. This has been accompanied by the increasing availability of pure heroin that has led to a rise in the abuse of the drug through non-injection modes such as smoking.


Overall, drug abuse statistics in the United States show that more people have been using intoxicating and mind altering substances in the recent past - with the highest number of incidents involving marijuana, meth, prescription drugs, and heroin.

If you have a problem with drug abuse, you should always remember that you are walking a slippery slope that could lead you to harmful and dangerous consequences like fatal overdose and sudden death.

To ensure that you are not numbered among these statistics, therefore, it is imperative that you start looking for solutions that can enable you quit drugs once and for all. Checking into a rehabilitation and treatment center for assessment and potential therapy, treatment, and medication is the first step you need to take to overcome your drug abuse, tolerance, dependence, and addiction.






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