Drug & Alcohol Addiction Statistics & Demographics

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It’s hard to see just how many people’s lives are affected by addiction when experiencing it up close. A wide array of addiction statistics must be assessed for a fuller image. (Thinkstock)
It’s hard to see just how many people’s lives are affected by addiction when experiencing it up close. A wide array of addiction statistics must be assessed for a fuller image. (Thinkstock)

We’ve talked a bit about addiction statistics before, such as our discussion of recidivism rates for addicts with legal issues. We also mentioned some basic demographic trends in our article on addict personality myths. But we’ve never really dedicated an article to breaking down the specific demographics that govern drug use. While there is arguably no end to the types of information we might discuss, we have decided to run through some of the most important addiction statistics we could find.

The following addiction statistics will be examined through the lens of six commonly asked questions about addiction and substance abuse. The first will examine age, in terms of when people started using drugs as well as the most common age groups using today. The second will examine which drugs are most popular. The third will answer the question of whether or not one sex is more predisposed to addiction than the other (race will be examined as well). The fourth will look at whether or not addiction is more common among the impoverished or uneducated. The fifth question asks about the cost of addiction on a nationwide level, both in terms of monetary costs and loss of life. Finally, we will provide some addiction statistics to show why treatment is necessary for those who suffer from this disease.

There will be a lot of numbers involved in this breakdown, but we will try to lay everything out as clearly as possible. As always, we will also provide links to our sources throughout the article for the benefit of those who would like to conduct further research. We hope you will find this information enlightening.

This article is part of our series on substance abuse.

At What Age Do People Use drugs?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has assessed nationwide trends and discovered that, as of 2013, there appeared to be a rise in the use of illicit drugs. Of Americans over the age of 12, there were 24.6 million (9.4% of the nation’s population) that had used substances within a month prior to the survey. This was largely due to a major spike in marijuana use, from 14.5 million (5.8%) in 2007 to 19.8 million (7.5%) in 2013. The use of methamphetamine had experienced a smaller spike, from 353,000 users in 2010 to 595,000 in 2013. Other drugs had either declined or remained about the same.

It was found in this same survey that there had been about 2.8 million new drug users in 2013, most of them teenagers. In fact, 54.1% of these new users were under the age of 18. Most of them began by using marijuana (70.3%), while many others used pain pills (12.5%) or inhalants (6.3%). While most new users were under the age of 18, addiction statistics from 2013 showed that it was the 18-20 demographic which had the highest number of users in general. About 22.6% of users were in this demographic, with the ages of 21-25 coming in a close second at 20.9%.

While the percentage of active drug users generally declined with each age demographic, it was found that many older demographics had experienced small increases in the year between surveys. This was especially true of the “baby boomer” generation in their fifties and early sixties. Those aged 55-59 had fallen from 6.6% to 5.7% in that time, but those aged 50-54 had risen from 7.2% to 7.9% while those aged 60-64 had risen from 3.6% to 3.9%.

What Age do People Start Abusing Alcohol?

As far as alcohol is concerned, those who are underage appear to have been drinking less than in previous years. It was reported by the NIDA that the abuse of alcohol by those aged 12-20 had dropped from 28.8% in 2002 to 22.7% in 2013, with significant drops in binge drinking (19.3% to 14.2%) and heavy drinking (6.2% to 3.7%) as well. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) noted that same year, however, that drinking was still rather prevalent. Of those aged 18 and above, there were 16.6 million (7% of the age group) believed to have an alcohol use disorder while 697,000 of those aged 12-17 (2.8% of the age group) were expected to suffer from alcoholism. These addiction statistics are troubling, considering that only 1.3 million adults (7.8% of those needing treatment) and 73,000 adolescents received treatment in that year.

What Percentage of Collage Aged Students Drink?

Campus sexual assault, a growing concern over the past few years, is largely attributed to alcohol abuse by college students. In the aforementioned survey by the NIAAA, their addiction statistics showed that 59.4% of full-time college students were drinking, as opposed to only about 50.6% of those aged 18-22 who were not enrolled in college full-time. About 20% of these students are believed to suffer from alcohol use disorders, with 1 in 4 suffering academic consequences. As for assault? There were 97,000 reports of alcohol-related date rape and sexual assault, with 696,000 reports of physical assaults in general committed by students under the influence.

Which Drugs are Abused the Most?

The 2014 Global Drug Survey looks at which drugs are most common in general, looking at the worldwide prevalence of each. Predictably, alcohol tops the list with 90.8% prevalence. Cannabis is also among the most prevalent drugs, weighing in at 48.2% prevalence. Cocaine, another majorly common drug, was rated at 16.4% prevalence. Surprisingly, this is below the prevalence of ecstasy, or “Molly,” which was rated at 23.4%. Amphetamines were found to be 11.7% prevalent, while psychedelics such as mushrooms and LSD were both between 10-11%. Opioids came in at 8.7%, benzos at 7.8%, nitrous oxide at 6.3%, and ketamine at 5.7%. Other prescription drugs, experimental drugs, and club drugs were all rated at less than 5%. These include Ritalin, mystery white powders, and poppers.

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Which Drugs Are Most Commonly Abused in Middle & High School?

Alcohol and marijuana are two of the most common drugs by far, regardless of age group. (Samantha Cohen/Freakonomics)
Alcohol and marijuana are two of the most common drugs by far, regardless of age group. (Samantha Cohen/Freakonomics)

The NIDA conducted a 2014 survey of high school youth trends which notes the most commonly used drugs among eighth-graders and high school seniors. Marijuana was the most popular drug among both groups, with 11.7% of surveyed eighth-graders using the substance while 35.1% of high school seniors admitted to using it. Adderall was the second-most popular drug among seniors at 6.8%, likely due to its dual roles as both a recreational drug and a study aid. The second-most popular drugs among eighth-graders was inhalants (5.3%), likely due to ease of acquisition. Synthetic drugs such as K2/spice were third in both groups, with rates of 3.3% among eighth-graders and 5.8% among high school seniors. Most other drugs were found to be more common with seniors, although relatively uncommon in general with both groups.

Does Race/Gender Demographics Play A Role in Substance Abuse?

While women are not as likely to suffer from alcoholism, those who do suffer are much less likely to receive the treatment they need to recover. (Shutterstock)
While women are not as likely to suffer from alcoholism, those who do suffer are much less likely to receive the treatment they need to recover. (Shutterstock)

The question of gender is a somewhat intriguing one. By and large, it appears that men are more inclined toward addiction than women. However, age appears to play a minor role in determining this. This has been noted in some of the addiction statistics we’ve already mentioned. For instance, the NIAAA’s survey notes that more men than women over the age of 18 have alcohol use disorders. Of the 16.6 million legal adults with such disorders, 10.8 million (9.4% of the age group) were men and 5.8 million (4.7% of the age group) were women. But the script was flipped when looking at adolescents of the ages 12-17. Of the 697,000 with alcohol use disorders, 385,000 (3.2% of the age group) were female while only 311,000 (2.5% of the age group) were male. This indicates that adolescent females may be slightly more open to trying substances such as alcohol than adolescent males.

Comparing Men & Women in Addiction and Seeking Treatment

What makes these particular addiction statistics troubling is that, while men are generally more inclined toward alcoholism and addiction than women, it has been found that women are much less likely to seek treatment. This is backed up by the addiction statistics referenced above. While 904,000 adult males (8% of those with use disorders) sought treatment, only 444,000 women (7.3% of those with use disorders) were found to have utilized the service of treatment facilities. The gap is even more pronounced in adolescents. There were slightly more adolescent females with use disorders; however, an approximate total of 44,000 adolescent males received the treatment they needed while treatment was administered to only 29,000 adolescent females.

Statistics for Drug Use Among African Americans

As for race, one of the major reasons that this topic interests so many people is that African-Americans appear to be charged with possession about three times as often as Caucasian substance abusers. However, they are not necessarily the heaviest drug users. The 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows that one of the primary drugs used more frequently by African-Americans is crack cocaine, used by about 5% of the surveyed population. However, Caucasians came in at 3.4%, which is not significantly lower. Native Americans, while drawing from a much lower weighted population, were the most common users of crack cocaine with a rate of 9.5%. The least frequent users were Latinos at 1.8% and Asian-Americans at 1%.

Comparing Statistics for Drug Abuse for White, Blacks, Native Americans, Asians and Latinos

Whites used marijuana at a rate of 46.3%, as opposed to 40.4% for blacks, 50% for Native Americans, 18.6% for Asians, and 30.8% for Latinos. As far as cocaine is concerned, whites were surveyed at a rate of 17.1%, blacks and Hispanics at around 10%, Native Americans at 21.3%, and Asian-Americans at 3.6%. Heroin was rated at 1.8% for both blacks and whites, 1.2% for Latin Americans, a mere 0.2% for Asian-Americans, and 2.6% for Native Americans. Alcohol was the one substance for which the addiction statistics showed Caucasians as the main users, with a rate of 87.1% compared to 75% for African-Americans, 76.4% for Native Americans, 66.1% for Asian-Americans, and 71.9% for Latin Americans.

In short, the statistics show that there is no huge difference between the races as far as substance abuse is concerned. That said, Native Americans are about 15% likely to develop substance abuse disorders, while other races tend to develop substance disorders at rates of less than 10%. But this is likely to be due more to disenfranchisement and genetic predisposition toward addiction and alcoholism than to any sort of widespread racial attitude. In short, these addiction statistics indicate that the claims made by many regarding racial profiling in the war on drugs are probably accurate. Even if all races are not using various substances at the exact same rates, they are close enough that there is absolutely no justification for racial bias in how drug-related crimes are investigated and prosecuted.

Is Education/Income Really A Factor in Addiction?

We sometimes picture the prescription drug addict as a person of wealth and status with abundant access to pills. But research suggests that this is not necessarily the case in most instances. (Photo via Voxy)
We sometimes picture the prescription drug addict as a person of wealth and status with abundant access to pills. But research suggests that this is not necessarily the case in most instances. (Photo via Voxy)

We talk a lot about the many negative stereotypes that perpetuate the common outlook on addicts and alcoholics. Well, two of the most common stereotypes are that addicts and alcoholics are generally poor or uneducated. Since we mentioned the disenfranchisement of Native Americans as a possible cause for their increased rates of addiction, it may sound as if these stereotypes are true. But like many addiction statistics, the truth is not quite as simple as that.

What Percentage of Graduates Have Used Alcohol?

We’ll begin with education. The 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, mentioned previously above, gives us a glimpse at how education (or lack thereof) influences certain types of substance use. We already mentioned the fact that college students are more likely to drink than others within their age group. As it turns out, this tendency appears to persist after the end of their college career. Only 56.4% of those who have completed less than high school have used alcohol (although this may be skewed by the relative age of survey members within this group). By contrast, 85.9% of survey members with a high school diploma or GED have tried alcohol. Those with 1-3 years of college have been clocked at 91% use, while 91.8% of those with 4 or more years have used alcohol at one point or another.

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What Percentage of Graduates Use Cannabis?

These numbers follow a minutely different trend for marijuana. Those with a diploma or GED are more likely to use cannabis (a rate of 43.4%) than those who have not graduated (a rate of 26.3%). Those who have completed 1-3 years of collegiate education are 50.7% likely to use, while this figure drops to 45.8% for those with 4 or more years. This same trend can be seen in cocaine use, although the numbers are lower: 9.1% for non-graduates of high school, 15% for those with diplomas and GEDs, 18.7% for those with 1-3 collegiate years, and 15.2% for those with 4 or more years.

Of course, the above addiction statistics are only for use in general. When looking at those who have used within the past 30 days, the numbers are slightly different. As far as cocaine is concerned, 0.7% of those who have not complete high school or college have used, while this drops to 0.5% for those who have completed high school and 0.3% for those who have completed college. For marijuana, those who have not completed high school or college clock in at slightly over 8%, compared to 7.5% for those who have diplomas or GEDs and 4.5% for those with 4+ years of college. Alcohol is the one substance which maintains a similar trend to its counterpart above, with recent use steadily increasing from 25.2% for those who have not completed high school to 67.5% for those with 4 or more years of college.

What Percentage of Graduates Use Crack?

Crack is apparently a much rarer drug, as only 0.1% of the first three education subgroups had used within 30 days, while 0% of those with 4 or more years of college had used in that time. Of those who have tried it, there were slightly over 3% of high school non-graduates, only 1.8% of those with 4+ years of college, and around 4% for each of the other subgroups. The numbers were slightly lower for heroin, but followed nearly identical trends.

Does Employment Effect Percentage of Drug Use?

Employment status is another major factor in addition to education. Only 2.8% of unemployed survey members had tried heroin (0.3% within 30 days), but only 1.6% of full-time employees had tried it (0.1% within 30 days). As for crack cocaine, 6.4% of the unemployed had tried it (0.4% within 30 days), compared to 3.5% of full-time employees (0% within 30 days).

Does Employment Status Effect Cocaine Use Statistics?

Cocaine presents some interesting addiction statistics in terms of employment status. Of those surveyed, 21.3% of the unemployed had tried it (1.5% within 30 days), while 19.2% of full-time employees had tried it (0.5% within 30 days). Part-time employees were actually the least likely to have tried cocaine, at a rate of 14.8% (0.7% within 30 days). In some ways, marijuana followed a similar trend, although there were many more users. Of those who were unemployed, 54.5% had tried it (14.8% within 30 days), while 51.4% of full-time employees (6.5% within 30 days). Part-time employees were again the least likely at 47.4% (9.6% within 30 days).

These statistics seem to show that those who lack education or employment are more likely to use drugs than others, although there are some cases in which those with education or employment are more likely to have been introduced to certain substances. In terms of employment status, one particular substance stands out: alcohol. The addiction statistics on alcohol and employment status are far from intuitive, the direct opposite of what one might expect from stereotypes. Of full-time employees, 91.2% had tried alcohol (63.9% within 30 days). Of part-time employees, 88.3% had tried it (57.8% within 30 days). Of the unemployed, 86.2% had tried it (only 53.9% within 30 days).

While most of these numbers may appear to corroborate certain stereotypes, note how close many of these figures are to one another. There may be certain spikes in certain drugs for those who lack employment or education, but these spikes are not large enough to justify the widespread opinion that those who are well-educated and employed are significantly less likely to drink or use drugs. First of all, they appear more inclined to drink. And while they might be less likely to use illicit drugs, it is only by a slight margin. As with the other addiction statistics and demographics we have examined thus far, the underlying message is that addiction and alcoholism can strike just about anyone.

Does Income Level Effect Heroin Use?

To illustrate the trouble with these types of stereotypes, we will point to two specific examples before moving on. For instance, many picture prescription drug addicts to be among the wealthy elite, while the heroin “junkie” is often pictured to be of limited means. As it turns out, however, certain studies have turned up addiction statistics that say the exact opposite. A 2012 survey by Forbes indicated that 10.5% of prescription drug users within the $0-$24,999 income bracket were taking at least 4 prescription drugs, while only 5% of surveyed users were in the $50,000-$100,000 bracket. Not a single respondent of those making $100,000-$149,000 indicated using this many prescription drugs. Meanwhile, a heroin study released in early July of this year indicated a rise in heroin use by those with private insurance and relatively high incomes. While the most major users were still those without health insurance or who were making less than $20,000, it was still evident that those with more wealth have been increasingly using the drug.

How Much is Alcoholism Costing the United States Each Year?

All over the world, people are dying every day from motor vehicle accidents caused by alcohol and drug abuse. (Wikimedia Commons)
All over the world, people are dying every day from motor vehicle accidents caused by alcohol and drug abuse. (Wikimedia Commons)

Further addiction statistics from 2006 and 2007 have shown that the widespread use of drugs and alcohol is quite costly. Not only does the individual often spend more than they can afford on their substance of choice, but there is actually a cost to society in the form of health care costs, loss of work productivity, and the costs of drug-related crimes. These costs have been estimated to be around $223.5 billion for alcohol, with around 11% of the total cost (about $25 billion) stemming from health care. Workplace productivity accounts for 72% (about $160.9 billion), crime-related costs account for 9% (slightly over $20 billion), and motor vehicle wrecks account for about 6% ($13.4 billion). About three-quarters of these costs were caused specifically by binge drinking.

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How Much Does Illicit Drugs Cost the USA?

Illicit drugs have cost society a bit less than alcohol, but the costs have still be significant. The total estimated cost in 2007 was somewhere over $193 billion, with just under 6% (about $11.4 billion) stemming from health care. Slightly over 62% ($120.3 billion) was from work productivity, while close to 32% ($61.4 billion) was from crime. The drugs that account for these costs include cannabis, methamphetamine and heroin, among many others.

How Many People Die from Alcohol?

Drugs and alcohol also incur great costs in the form of loss of life. In 2013, alcohol was the cause of 10,076 deaths from driving incidents (30.8% of all driving-related deaths that year). But motor vehicle crashes and other driving incidents are not the only alcohol-related causes of death in the United States. It is estimated that alcohol kills about 88,000 people every year (62,000 males and 26,000 females).

How Many People Die From Overdoses?

Other illicit substances cause numerous deaths per year as well. The NIDA has published statistics on overdose death rates from 2001 to 2013. Prescription drugs caused around 23,000 such deaths in 2013 alone. Opioid pain relievers accounted for around 16,000 overdose deaths in that same year, while somewhere close to 7,000 of those deaths were caused by benzodiazepines. The last two drugs listed by the NIDA were cocaine and heroin. While cocaine overdose deaths experienced a decline from between 7,000 and 8,000 in 2006 to about 5,000 in 2013, heroin overdose deaths rose dramatically from less than 2,000 in 2001 to over 4,000 in 2011 and more than 8,000 in 2013. In short, these addiction statistics illustrate a clearly growing need for treatment in order to slow the spread of addiction and alcoholism before they cost even more lives.

Substance Abuse Treatment Statistics

It can sometimes be scary to take the leap, but those who drum up the courage to ask for help often can and do make a long-lasting recovery from addiction. (Photo via Huffington Post)
It can sometimes be scary to take the leap, but those who drum up the courage to ask for help often can and do make a long-lasting recovery from addiction. (Photo via Huffington Post)

We have already discussed the number of people seeking treatment in previous sections. And the fact of the matter is that most of those who need treatment are not getting it. This appears to be especially true of women. A 2009 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Survey on Drug Use and Health recorded 23.5 million people above the age of 12 (9.3% of people in this age group) who needed treatment. But of these people, only 2.6 million (11.2%) were admitted to treatment facilities.

SAMHSA’s Treatment Episode Data Set provides a bit more information on which people are receiving the most help. In 2008, 1.8 admissions to treatment facilities were recorded (note that this is not a complete figure, as not all facilities report their numbers to the State). Of these admissions, about 41.4% were for alcohol, 20% were for heroin and other opiates, and 17% were for marijuana. The rest were for other illicit drug addictions.

Is Addiction Treatment Successful?

But one of the most hotly contested addiction statistics revolves around whether or not addiction treatment has actually been successful for such people. And the answer is not entirely simple. The NIDA has found that relapse rates for addicts can fall anywhere between 40% and 60%. While some do not like this number, it should be noted that this is similar to the relapse rates of diabetes (30% to 50%), hypertension (50% to 70%) and asthma (also 50% to 70%). In other words, addiction is similar to these purely physical ailments in the sense that the addict must receive ongoing treatment if they are to avoid the reoccurrence of major symptoms.

Here at Amethyst Recovery, we do our best to give patients all of the tools they need to prevent relapse from occurring. Not only do we prep them with knowledge of addiction statistics pertaining to relapse, but we also provide them the opportunity to seek shelter in one of our sober living facilities once they have graduated from treatment. Ultimately, it is up to the patient to decide whether or not they will continue building a sober support network and working a strong program of recovery.

If they make this choice, than treatment can absolutely be effective. And while relapse is still a possibility, those who have received treatment are more likely to once again find their way out of the darkness and into the light. Because some addiction statistics are not as certain as others. But everyone has an equal chance of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, as long as they are willing to ask for help in finding it.

This article is part of our series on substance abuse.

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