The Extent of Drug Addiction and Alcohol Abuse in the United States

According to the latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health (2009), among Americans 12 years of age or older,

  • 18.6 million people abuse alcohol or are addicted to other drugs;
  • Nearly 0ne-quarter (23.7 percent) reported binge drinking at least once in the 30 days prior to the survey (5 or more standard drinks* for males, 4 for females within a 2 to 3 hour period);
  • 6.8 % (17.1 million people) reported heavy drinking (an average of more than two standard drinks a day for men, one for women).

21.8 million individuals 12 or older were current illicit drug users.

  • 16.7 million used marijuana at least 20 times a month.
  • 7 million used prescription drugs to mood alter, rather than for the reason prescribed (not including over-the-counter preparations).
  • 1.6 million used cocaine or crack cocaine.
  • 1.3 million used hallucinogens, such as LSC, PCP, psilocybin and similar drugs.
  • .6 million used inhalants, primarily youths younger than 21.
  • 200,000 used heroin, down about 75% from earlier results due to the increased availability of substitutes such as Oxycontin and similar, easily-obtained, prescription drugs.

The majority will not need treatment.  They may be able to stop on their own, influenced by a drug-intolerant social climate, and/or the threat of social, legal and employment sanctions. However, treatment will be required for those who cannot or will not stop on their own — those who have become physically or psychologically dependent.  Lacking intervention, compulsive users are usually unable to stop for more than a few days at a time, despite the consequences of their alcohol or other drug use. Their need for chemicals forces them to deny the reality of their addiction, in order to protect themselves from accepting the need to stop.

In the case of adolescents, who are still developing physically, emotionally and socially, any use of drugs outside limits prescribed for them by a doctor, is illegal and can be considered abuse — obviously true of alcohol as well. If the use is causing discernible problems, immediate intervention is warranted.  Not only can effective intervention stop the progression of abuse into addiction, but current research has shown that the development of the adolescent brain and nervous system are severely impacted by drugs, especially alcohol.  This may result in chronic cognitive and behavioral issues, beyond those associated with the drugs themselves, that may not be reversible with abstinence.

The annual economic cost of drug and alcohol abuse in the US is immense, estimated at nearly $215 billion ($651.52 a year for every man, woman and child in the country). This refers only to the monetary cost, and does not take into account the costs to individuals, families, friends and society in general of being deprived of the companionship and productivity of these people. Many studies have shown that treatment is not only essential, but is cost-effective** in terms of the price society and individuals pay for addiction that progresses.  Treatment appropriate to the needs of the individual has been shown to work in a significant percentage of cases, although more than one attempt may be necessary.
*Standard drink: One 12-oz. beer, one 5-oz. glass of wine, or one 1.5 oz. shot of 80 proof liquor.


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