How Many Americans Are Addicted to Drugs?
Before discussing the details of addiction, let’s look at a few important statistics:
- In 2015, 27.1 million people aged 12 or older used an illicit drug within the previous 30 days. That’s about 1 in 10 Americans.
- Of the 20.8 million people aged 12 or older,15.7 million had an alcohol use disorder. Around 7.7 million had an illicit drug use disorder.
- Fewer than 30% of people who used illicit drugs in 2015 suffered from addiction. Yet, this number could be low as many people fall through the cracks.
What Are the Top Drugs Abused?
According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, illicit drugs included:
- Prescription psychotherapeutic drugs (e.g. pain relievers, tranquilizers, stimulants and sedatives).1
What Is a Substance Use Disorder?
A substance use disorder describes a pattern of using a substance that results in impairment in daily life.
For a person to be diagnosed with a substance use disorder, they must display two of the following symptoms within a 12-month period:3
- Consuming more of the drug than planned
- Worrying about trying to quit the drug or failing in efforts to control its use
- Spending a large amount of time using drugs or doing whatever is needed to obtain them
- Using the drug results in failure to fulfill major obligations at home, work or school
- “Craving” the drug
- Continuing to use the drug despite physical or mental health problems worsened by its use
- Continuing to use the drug despite its negative effects on relationships with others
- Repeatedly using the drug in dangerous situations. (e.g. when operating heavy machinery or driving a car)
- Giving up or reducing normal activities due to drug use
- Building up a tolerance to the drug. Tolerance is defined in the DSM-5 as needing to use noticeably larger amounts over time to get the desired effect. The person may notice less of a high after repeated use of the same amount.
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms after stopping use
How Many Americans Suffer from Drug Addiction?
The following statistics all derive from the most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The study was published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration with 2015 data.1
Marijuana Use Disorder
- 4 million total
- 651,000, aged 12-17
- 1.8 million, aged 18-25
- 1.6 million, aged 26 and older
Cocaine Use Disorder
- 896,000 total
- 31,000, aged 12-17
- 229,000, aged 18-25
- 430,000, aged 26 and older
Heroin Use Disorder
- 591,000 total
- 6,000, aged 12-17
- 155,000, aged 18-25
- 430,000, aged 26 and older
Methamphetamine Use Disorder
- 872,000 total
- 22,000, aged 12-17
- 156,000, aged 18-25
- 694,000, aged 26 and older
Pain Reliever Use Disorder
- 2.0 million total
- 122,000, aged 12-17
- 427,000, aged 18-25
- 1.5 million, aged 26 and older
Tranquilizer Use Disorder
- 688,000 total
- 77,000, aged 12-17
- 234,000, aged 18-25
- 376,000, aged 26 and older
Stimulant Use Disorder
- 426,000 total
- 38,000, aged 12-17
- 159,000, aged 18-25
- 229,000, aged 26 and older
The scope of the drug addiction epidemic in America is immense. It impacts people of all ages, races, genders and socioeconomic strata. Co-occurring SUDs and mental health disorders are common. There are approximately 19.6 million adults suffering from both in 2015. Only a small percentage of people who need treatment receive it. Even fewer go to specialized facilities.
What Are the Statistics on the Prescription Opioid Epidemic?
- About 2.1 million adults in the U.S. reported symptoms of nonmedical prescription opioid use disorder.4
- In 2013, 746,000 people received treatment for prescription opioid use disorders at inpatient facilities.
- An estimated 24% who were treated for opioid use disorders with pharmacotherapy used prescription opioids.5
Opioid use disorder has well-documented negative consequences including:
- Premature death
- Acquisition and transmission of HIV and hepatitis C.
- Many people who abuse prescription opioids begin using heroin. This is due to its relatively inexpensive cost and availability.
What Causes Prescription Opioid Addiction?
A recent study analyzed the onset of opioid use disorder in those who first used opioids to get high (non-Rx). The study compared the outcome with those who received a prescription (Rx group) for the drug. The study consisted of 214 participants entering treatment at one of the drug treatment programs across the country.
- The Rx group consisted of 57.6% female and 42.4% male.
- The non-Rx group consisted of 53.6% female and46.4% male.
- The Prescribed opioids were more often the first ones abused.
- Both groups had psychiatric problems requiring treatment at some point in their lives. The Rx group had a significantly greater incidence of depression.6
- An estimated 85% of participants said opioids had the ability to provide a means of escaping from life’s unpleasantness. The reported that opioids provide relief from psychiatric disorders like anxiety and depression. The opioids reportedly made them feel “normal” and more focused. These complex drug-induced attributes appeared to be the driving factors in the development of an opioid use disorder.
- After a short time of persistent use, individuals in both groups experienced dependence. Even those who were not using opioids to get high needed increased amounts to prevent the pain and discomfort of opioid withdrawal. The fear of opioid withdrawal symptoms became such a powerful force that getting high was no longer a priority of use.6
Addiction in the Workplace
Addiction in the workplace is widespread. There is an estimated 75% of adults struggling with substance abuse currently employed.
- Workers with substance abuse disorders miss nearly 50% more days than their sober colleagues. As many as six weeks of work annually is missed.
- Construction, entertainment, recreation and food service businesses have twice the national average of employees with substance abuse disorders.
- Drug addictions cost taxpayers more than $440 billion annually.
- The cost of untreated substance abuse ranges from $2,600 to $13,000 per employee.7
Drug Addiction Is a Complex Problem
Statistics are just part of the picture. Until someone has experienced drug addiction, it is hard to comprehend the consequences on individual, families, the workplace and society as a whole. Unfortunately, there is not a simple solution. Many components need to be part of the equation including:
- Improved access to treatment
- Increased research
Addiction recovery involves many pathways. Treatment must be tailored to fit the life circumstances of each individual.