This webpage features the most noteworthy drug abuse statistics and data surrounding drug addiction in the United States, including overdose deaths, addiction by drug type, and overall illicit drug use. Use the navigation links above to find area-specific information, or continue reading for the main highlights.
General Drug Use Statistics
Drug Overdoses & Deaths | Drug Use Among Youth | Marijuana Use & Addiction | Opioid Epidemic | Drug War Cost | Marijuana Incarceation
Approximately 1 in every 10 Americans has a drug abuse problem. Despite the steady decline of drug addiction in the early 2000s, substance abuse has risen dramatically over the past decade. This, unfortunately, has resulted in a multitude of detrimental effects, including a striking incline in drug overdose deaths. From 2016 to 2017 alone, there was a 21% increase in the number of drug overdose deaths. At this rate, 2018 is expected to see a new record in mortality.
The pervasive drug addiction in today’s society stems from a variety of factors, including alterations in brain chemistry caused by prescription and street drugs alike, the increasing availability of drugs, as well as new synthetic forms, as well as untreated emotional or psychological conditions that lead to drug experimentation. Remember, addiction treatment programs and rehab facilities are always open for people who need them.
Perhaps some of the most shocking statistics, in addition to the high rate of drug-related deaths, involve America’s youth and their drug abuse. Drugs are being used by all age groups, however, and millions of people admit to having used drugs at some point in their lifetime. A study in 2016 showcased that at least 10.6% of people had used within the past month. Here are the numbers of drug users (among 28.6 million people 12 or older) by drug type:
By far one of the most prevalent topics in the national discussion on drug abuse is the opioid epidemic. Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illicit drug heroin as well as the prescription pain relievers oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, fentanyl and more. In 2016, 116 people died every day from opioid-related drug overdoses. In order to work toward solving the nation’s drug use issues, it’s important to understand how we got here.
Over the last 25 years, the number of dispensed opioid prescriptions has risen dramatically. From 1991 to 2013, the number of dispensed prescriptions increased from 76 million to 207 million, which is a 272% increase. Since then, prescription rates have declined, and in 2016 it had reached its lowest point in a long time. However, prescribing rates continue to remain very high in certain areas across the country.
According to the CDC, in about a quarter of U.S. counties, enough opioid prescriptions were dispensed for every person to have one. While the overall opioid prescribing rate in 2016 was 66.5 prescriptions per 100 people, some counties had rates that were seven times higher than that.
The reasons for this substantial spike may be dangerous and misleading claims about opioid addiction. In the early 1990s, various pharmaceutical companies assured the medical community that prescription opioids were non-addictive and completely safe for patients’ use. As a result, physicians began to prescribe opioids more and more, considering the drugs’ effective pain relieving qualities.
According to the CDC, providers wrote nearly a quarter of a billion opioid prescriptions in 2013—with wide variation across states. This is enough for every American adult to have their own bottle of pills.
Before opioids were known to be highly addictive and fatal, the popular drug usage led to widespread abuse and diversion. Consequently, opioid-related deaths began to rise significantly. Drugs are the number one cause of accidental deaths in America. In fact, drug overdoses kill more people than gun violence, car accidents, and breast cancer do. The opioid epidemic is actually more volatile than the HIV/AIDS epidemic was at its peak in 2005. Opioid-related deaths accounted for over 75% of drug-related deaths.
Those at risk for an opioid use disorder may be obtaining overlapping prescriptions from multiple providers and pharmacies, taking high, daily doses of prescription pain relievers, or have a mental illness or a history of substance abuse. Studies also show that Medicaid patients, as well as people living in rural areas, with low income, are at a higher risk for opioid prescription abuse. In fact, one study showed that at least 40% of Medicaid enrollees with prescriptions for pain relievers had at least one indicator of potentially inappropriate use or prescribing.
This public health crisis has had markedly adverse effects on the community. In fact, roughly 21-29% of patients who are prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them and 8-12% develop an opioid use disorder. The horrific reality of this problem is the transition into addiction and abuse of other, more potent, illicit drugs. Approximately 4-6% of people who misuse prescription opioids begin using heroin, and about 80% of those who use heroin abused prescription opioids first.
As time progresses, more people are introduced to addictive substances, like opioids, and begin to develop substance use disorders. The abuse of prescription opioids often leads to the abuse of heroin — in fact, in 2016, 170,000 people used heroin for the first time.
Synthetic opioids are also gaining significant popularity. The demand for these substances has increased dramatically, and as more and more people transition to synthetic opioids, the death count will be higher. Synthetic opioids are just as dangerous as heroin, and both can be fatal. Here are the numbers of overdose deaths related to heroin, fentanyl and opioid painkillers in 2016.
In addition to increased overdoses, deaths, and illicit, drug-related activities, the opioid crisis has also caused a rise in incidences of neonatal abstinence syndrome. Opioids have devastating effects on pregnant women and newborn babies. To put things in perspective, the number of babies born in the United States with a drug withdrawal symptom has quadrupled over the past 15 years.
The life expectancy in the United States has also decreased, given that the opioid crisis is targeting so much of our youth. Life expectancy is based on how old people are when they die, and with substance abuse running rampant, people are dying at very young ages. Health care in the U.S. is struggling to keep up with the crisis.
Marijuana is the most popular illicit drug in the nation. In fact, a 2017 Yahoo News/Marist survey indicated that approximately 35 million Americans use marijuana on a monthly basis. A 2015 study by Jama Psychiatry concluded that marijuana’s popularity has risen considerably over the past decade.
55 million Americans admitted to having used marijuana within the past year, and at least 78 million people surveyed reported having tried the substance at some point in their lives.
In 2001-02, 4.1% of Americans had claimed to have used marijuana within the past year. By 2015, that number had more than doubled to 9.1%. This study also concluded that the number of individuals with marijuana use disorder had decreased from 35.6% to 30.6% between 2001 and 2013.
The most prominent marijuana statistics relate to its common use among adolescents, teens, and young adults. For many, marijuana use begins in middle school and the frequency of use increases over time. In 2016, survey results showed that 9.4% of 8th graders reported marijuana use in the past year and 5.4% in the past month.
The drug’s prominence can be attributed to the popular belief that it is harmless. Marijuana is often advertised as non-addictive and completely safe. In fact, according to the 2017 Monitoring the Future survey, only 31% of high school seniors report that regular marijuana use is harmful. On top of that, 78% of teens have friends who use marijuana regularly.
However, scientific studies show that there are both physical and psychological health effects of using marijuana. Marijuana use is known to increase your heart rate, lower your blood pressure, and affect your blood sugar too. Smoking marijuana is also linked to lung irritation and lung-related complications, including chest colds and lung infections. Regular marijuana smokers may also have an ongoing cough and/or shallow breathing. Other physical effects of marijuana include dizziness, red eyes, and dilated pupils, dry mouth, increased appetite, and slowed reaction time.
Long-term marijuana users will also have physical withdrawal symptoms when they try to stop using, like cravings, irritability, sleeplessness, and loss of appetite. Even though the majority of marijuana users enjoy the drug for its relaxing qualities, marijuana can affect people’s moods in a negative manner as well. Marijuana users may experience a distorted sense of time, random thinking, paranoia, anxiety, depression, and short-term forgetfulness.
Those who begin using marijuana in their adolescent or teenage years are likely to experience more negative effects than others over time. In fact, about 1 in 6 people who start using marijuana as a teen, and 25-50% of those who use it every day, become addicted to marijuana. Research also shows girls (ages 14-15) who used marijuana daily were 5 times more likely to face depression at age 21.
To show just how common marijuana is in public schools, various students in different grades were surveyed. Among 10th graders, 23.9% had used marijuana in the past year and 14% in the past month. Rates of use among 12th graders were higher still: 35.6% had used marijuana during the year prior to the survey and 22.5% used in the past month; 6% said they used marijuana daily or near-daily. Among people aged 18 or older who reported lifetime marijuana use, almost 53% report first using marijuana between ages 12 and 17. About 2% report that they first used marijuana before the age of 12.
It’s estimated that 1% of American adults abuse marijuana. This breaks down to roughly thirty-five million adults. Approximately 9% of those who abuse marijuana become addicted, or developmental health issues, on it, and encounter problems with their health, school, friendships, family or other conflicts in their life.
Although alcohol is not illicit in the United States (for those 21 years of age or older), the abuse of it is quite prevalent. Alcoholism and alcohol-related accidents and deaths are widespread in the United States. Studies show that 86.4% of people ages 18 or older report drinking alcohol at some point in their lifetime, 70.1% report drinking in the past year, and 56% report drinking in the past month.
Alcoholism has a profound effect on the entire body, especially the brain, heart, pancreas, mouth, liver and immune system. In spite of its negative impact, more Americans than ever before consume alcohol on a regular basis, contributing to about 80,000 alcohol-related deaths per year
In terms of binge drinking and heavy alcohol use, the same study concluded that 26.9% of people ages 18 or older engaged in binge drinking in the past month and 7% reported that they engaged in heavy alcohol use in the past month. On a grander scale, more than 65 million Americans report binge drinking in the past month, which is more than 40% of the total number of current alcohol users.
It is a factor in the three leading causes of death among 15-24-year-olds: accidents, homicides and suicides. Beyond that, alcohol is also the agent in many catastrophic incidents. Kids who start drinking young are also seven times more likely to be in an alcohol-related motor vehicle accident when they begin to drive. In addition, 97,000 students between the ages of 18 – 24 are sexually assaulted in an alcohol-related incident.
Here are statistics for underage alcohol users, aged 12-20 years old.
The number of current alcohol users represents 19.3% of America’s youth, aged 12-20. 12.1% of these individuals are binge drinkers and 2.8% are heavy drinkers. As mentioned previously, alcohol abuse is a markedly predominant issue among young people in America.
Alcohol negatively affects people from all walks of life. In 2014, the number of alcoholic liver disease deaths was 9,388 and the number of alcohol-induced deaths, excluding accidents and homicides, was 30,722. To add on, alcohol poisoning kills six people every day. Of those, 76% are adults ages 35-64.
Over 15 million individuals struggle with an alcohol use disorder in the United States, but less than 8% of those people receive treatment.
Stimulants, also referred to as “uppers,” are a group of drugs known to temporarily increase one’s alertness and energy. Some of the most commonly used, illicit stimulants are cocaine and methamphetamine. Prescription stimulants include medications such as methylphenidate (Ritalin® and Concerta®) and amphetamines (Dexedrine® and Adderall®), which are usually prescribed to individuals with disorders like ADD and ADHD.
Stimulants are usually associated with increased pleasure, altered movement, and changes in attention, leaving the door open for prescription drug abuse. The higher levels of dopamine in the brain distort an individual’s perception and are responsible for the “rush” of the drugs. The most recent Monitoring the Future survey shows that prescription stimulants such as Adderall® and Ritalin® are two of the drugs most frequently abused by high school seniors, with 6.5% reporting nonmedical use of Adderall® in the past year.
Many teens report abusing prescription stimulants to get high because they mistakenly believe that prescription drugs are a “safer” alternative to illicit drugs. Teens also report abusing prescription stimulants to try to lose weight or increase wakefulness and attention. Some even abuse them to get better grades, (certain stimulants are referred to as “study drugs” or “smart drugs”) considering the advertised, improved focus of the drugs. Research, however, shows that stimulant abuse is actually linked to poorer academic performance.
According to The Recovery Village, the most commonly abused stimulants are the following:
- Adderall – A popular amphetamine, 614, 000 teens aged 12–17 have admitted using the drug for nonmedical reasons at some point. Abuse of the drug leads to almost 1,500 emergency room visits every year, and serious side effects can include insomnia and stroke.
- Ritalin – A brand name for methylphenidate, nonmedical use of the drug is illegal and is believed to serve as a gateway drug to eventual cheaper, harder drugs like meth. Serious side effects can include hallucinations and lack of appetite.
- Concerta – A popular methylphenidate drug, most teens who use the drug recreationally get it from a friend who has a prescription for it. Snorting crushed pills have become popular among teens — in order to amplify the effects of the high. Dangers of nonmedical use of Concerta can include disrupted sleep patterns, vision disturbances, and stroke.
- Vyvanse – Initially billed as a medication with low abuse potential — and intended for younger children — nonmedical use of the drug has nonetheless pervaded among adolescents. Serious side effects include abnormalities in brain chemistry, delirium, and seizures.
- Modafinil – This eugeroic medication is often prescribed for narcolepsy but has gained incredible popularity among adolescents for its ability to shut down the body’s need for sleep — the perfect solution for all-night cramming before tests. It is often referred to as its brand name “Provigil.” In some cases, Provigil abuse can lead to life-threatening skin conditions and recurring suicidal thoughts.
In 2016, it was estimated that about 1.9 million people aged 12 or older were current users of cocaine. About 432,000 of these people were current users of crack. This means that 0.7% of the population aged 12 or older who were current users of cocaine and 0.2% who were current users of crack.
The 2016 estimate for current cocaine use was similar to the estimates in most years between 2007-2015, but it was lower than the estimates in 2002-2006. The 2016 estimate of crack use was similar to the estimates in most years from 2008-2015, but it was lower than the estimates in most years between 2002 to 2007. The following graph shows past month cocaine users among people aged 12 or older from 2002-2016.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “club drugs” tend to be used by teenagers and young adults at bars, nightclubs, concerts, and parties. Club drugs include GHB, Rohypnol®, ketamine, MDMA (Ecstasy), Methamphetamine, and LSD (Acid). In 2017, the Monitoring the Future Survey revealed trends in the prevalence of club drugs for 8th Graders, 10th Graders, and 12th Graders. Here are the percentages of lifetime use by drug and by grade:
In terms of stratified age groups, NSDUH also reported percentages regarding lifetime use of selected club drugs.
Overall, LSD seems to be the most popular drug across all age groups. The usage percentages, however, are quite low.
Drug Prevalence Among Youth
2017’s annual Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey of drug use and attitudes among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders shows that statistics for past-year use of illegal drugs (other than marijuana) are remaining steady at the lowest levels in over two decades. The results for past-year illicit drug use was 5.8% among 8th graders, 9.4% among 10th graders, and 13.3% among 12th graders. This is down from peak rates of 13.1% for 8th graders in 1996, 18.4% for 10th graders in 1996, and 21.6% for 12th graders in 2001.
Despite the decline in drug usage, statistics have also revealed that perceptions of drugs’ potential dangers have declined as well. Percentages of middle and high-schoolers who perceived certain drugs as “dangerous” or “harmful” were lower than they had been in recent years.
However, throughout the nation, 10 million young people (ages 12 to 29) are in need of substance abuse treatment. Among the millions, only 1 in 10 adolescents who have a substance use disorder actually receive the professional treatment they deserve. Some of the most commonly abused drugs are marijuana, cocaine, crack, opioids (including heroin), LSD, ecstasy, and methamphetamine. Research shows shocking statistics in teen substance abuse, emphasizing the prominence of drugs in America’s youth. The following are percentages for teen drug use by drug type.
Although opioids are a significant menace among younger individuals and are driving the epidemic, research shows that teenage opioid use is relatively low.
Every year, the number of drug overdose deaths in America increases. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in 2016, 64,070 people died from drug overdoses. That is a 21% increase from last year alone. Bloomberg reported that for every 100,000 residents, nearly 20 died from drug overdoses. While some states have higher rates than others, it is undeniable that substance abuse is a critical concern for citizens’ lives. The following map shows the total number of overdose deaths in 2016 by state:
Over the past two years alone, the total drug-related deaths in the country have increased by over 100%.
The use of drugs has also risen, and millions of people across the nation have used some kind of drug in their lifetime. The following graph displays the numbers of drug-related deaths over the past 19 years. So many people have lost a loved one to drug abuse.