It’s no secret that America has a growing drug addiction epidemic. Drug use can have a devastating impact on individuals, families, neighborhoods, and society as a whole. Statistics show that some factors are linked to a higher risk of drug use. This article discusses a variety of categories related to drug use statistics.

Statistics on Commonly Abused Substances

According to the 2015–2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), the most commonly abused drugs by all age groups in order of prevalence are:

  • Alcohol
  • Cigarettes
  • Marijuana
  • Smokeless Tobacco
  • Prescription painkillers
  • Hallucinogens
  • Prescription Stimulants
  • Prescription Sedatives
  • Cocaine
  • MDMA
  • Inhalants
  • LSD
  • Methamphetamine
  • Heroin
  • Crack cocaine

Notably, drugs that can be obtained legally like alcohol, tobacco and marijuana (in some states) have the highest rates of abuse.

Alcohol Statistics

Alcohol is a legal substance that is widely available and socially acceptable, making it one of the most commonly abused substances. Alcoholism often goes untreated because the substance is legal and part of everyday life for many people, making it seem less harmful.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, there were approximately 15.1 million adults with an alcohol use disorder in 2015. These adults with alcohol use disorder consisted of 9.8 million males and 5.3 million females.

In 2018, about 81% of people in the United States above the age of 12 reported using alcohol at least once in their lifetime. In comparison, roughly 65% of people drank alcohol in the last year, and 51% drank alcohol in the last month.

The 2018 NSDUH reported that about a quarter of adults 26 years or older currently binge drink.

Marijuana Statistics

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana is currently the most commonly used illicit drug. According to the NSDUH, about 22.2 million people admit to using marijuana in the past month. In 2018, about 43.5 million Americans aged 12 or older used marijuana in the past year, which is about 16% of the people in that age group.

The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) is a reporting system that emergency departments use to help discover trends in drug overdose and harm. In 2011, statistics from DAWN report that about 456,000 visits to emergency departments involved marijuana use.

Cocaine Statistics

About 15% of people aged 12 or older reported using cocaine in their lifetime in 2018. While this number may seem high, the fact that only 2% of people report using cocaine in the last month may indicate that many people try cocaine, but do not continue to use it. About 0.7% of people reported using it in the last month.

In 2018, about 874,000 people used cocaine for the first time.

Heroin Statistics

Heroin is a dangerous drug that has a high risk of addiction, overdose and bloodborne diseases such as HIV, depending on the method of use. Despite the high risk of addiction and other dangers, heroin use has increased in recent years as a result of the opioid epidemic.

In 2017, about 2.2% of people aged 26 or older report using heroin at least once in their lifetime. Only 0.1% of people between the ages of 12–17 reported using heroin once or more in their lifetime, but that number jumps to 1.8% in those aged 18–25.

Prescription Drugs Statistics

In 2017, an estimated 18 million individuals above the age of 12 abused prescription drugs at least once. More people report using prescription drugs than cocaine, heroin or methamphetamine combined. This disparity may exist because prescription medications are obtained legally and therefore are more easily accessible.

Stimulant Statistics

Approximately 0.6% of people aged 12 or older reported using stimulants like methamphetamine in the past year, according to the 2015–2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. 

The use of amphetamines such as Adderall has increased in college communities. According to a survey conducted by The Michigan Daily, 25% of college-aged respondents said they used a central nervous stimulant to improve school performance.

Hallucinogens Statistics

Hallucinogenic drugs include LSD, psilocybin (mushrooms), peyote, mescaline, salvia and ayahuasca.

In 2017, about 15.5% of people aged 12 or older had used hallucinogens at least once in their lifetime. Teenagers aged 12–17 had a relatively low use rate at 2.8%, but the rate increases dramatically in the 18–25 age group to 17.3%.

Drug Use by State

While drugs and addictive substances are used throughout the United States, some states and regions have higher levels of drug use than others. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration conducts research to help foster greater understanding and action toward treating and preventing addiction. The organization’s prevalence estimates provide analyzed information about drug use patterns in each state.

Of the states with the highest percentage of illicit drug use, Oregon ranked number one, with 20.91% of people ages 12 and older using illicit drugs in the past month. Other areas with high past-month use of illicit drugs include the District of Columbia, Vermont, Rhode Island, Washington State and Massachusetts. At 7.64%, Texas is ranked lowest for past-month illicit drug use.

While past-month illicit drug use is telling of a state or district’s overall drug use, there are other factors that can impact state-specific statistics. Some of the states and districts with the highest drug use metrics overall include the District of Columbia, Michigan, Missouri, West Virginia and Indiana. District of Columbia had the highest percentage of adults with unmet treatment needs.

Demographics of Addiction

Despite the stereotypical image of someone who uses drugs, addiction impacts people from all walks of life. However, some factors may indicate a higher risk of drug addiction. Certain demographics or situations such as location, gender, ethnicity and age can impact a person’s likelihood of becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol.


The National Institute of Drug Abuse reported that 24.6% of adults over the age of 12 in the United States had used illicit drugs in the past month in 2013. Though addictive substances cause issues among all age groups, baby boomers present a growing area of concern as many struggle with addictions to prescription drugs. Aside from baby boomers, adults in general tend to have higher rates or drug use and addiction than teens.


While drug use in teens aged 12–17 is lower than other age groups, adolescent drug use may carry a greater risk of long-term harm. The younger a person uses drugs, the more likely they are to develop an addiction in the future. Alcohol and drug use in teens can evolve into a pattern of unsafe behaviors.

According to the NSDUH, the drugs most commonly used by teens include alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco. In their lifetime, 26,3% of teens used alcohol, 15.4 % used marijuana and 9.6% smoked tobacco at least once. These statistics show that the substances teens abuse most often are the same that adults also abuse most often.


In 2014, more than 1 million older adults (aged 65 and older) had a substance use disorder. Of that number, almost all were alcohol use disorder (978,000) versus a much smaller amount of illicit drug use disorders (161,000).

Between 2001 and 2020, illicit drug use amongst older adults is projected to grow from 2.2% to 3.1%, in part because drug use is relatively high in the baby boomer generation compared to previous generations.


According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, men are more likely than women to abuse almost all types of illicit substances. Men also have higher rates of abuse and dependence across all age groups. However, women and men have the same likelihood of going on to develop a substance use disorder.

Research into gender differences with respect to drug use shows that women use drugs differently and respond to them differently. Women tend to be more susceptible to craving and relapse cycles of addiction, even though they have lower rates of dependence.


According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), drug abuse rates differ among people of different ethnicities. The findings from adults ages 12 and older in the United States showed the following rates of past month illicit drug use broken down by ethnicity:

  • White: 9.5%
  • African American: 10.5%
  • American Indian and Alaskan Native: 12.3%
  • Asian: 3.1%
  • Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander: 14%
  • Hispanic: 8.8%

Education Level

Studies suggest that there is a relationship between a person’s education level and drug addiction. The higher the degree obtained, the less likely the subjects in the study were to become addicted to drugs. A person’s level of education may influence their chances of developing an addiction, though it is not a direct indicator that they will become addicted to drugs.

Results from the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health showed that 36.5% of adults with less than a high school degree were currently drank alcohol, compared to 69.2% of college graduates. The rate of illicit drug use among college graduates is only 6.7%. Approximately 10% of non-college graduates reported using illicit drugs.

Employment Status

Employment status may have an impact on drug use. People who are unemployed use illicit drugs at a rate of about 18%. Research also shows that illicit drug use for those who are employed full time is around 9.1%, while part-time employment ad illicit drug use was 13.7%.

Risk Factors for Addiction

Like with other mental health and physical disorders or diseases, there are risk factors associated with drug addiction.

Some of these risk factors include:

  • Family history
  • Individual brain chemistry
  • Psychological factors, such as stress, thrill-seeking personality or impulsive behavior, depression, anxiety, eating disorders and psychiatric disorders
  • Environmental influences, including exposure to abuse or trauma, access to an addictive substance and peer pressure

Even if a few of these risk factors are present, it does not mean the person will become addicted to drugs. However, the more risk factors that are present, the greater the person’s chances become for developing an addiction.

Addiction and Mental Illness

The 2018 NSDUH reports that 9.2 million adults 18 or older had both a mental health condition and co-occurring substance use disorder. This number is about 3.7% of all adults in the United States. The percentage of adults with co-occurring disorders has increased since 2015.

Many people with co-occurring disorders self-medicate using drugs or alcohol, sometimes without even knowing they have a mental health disorder. This effect underscores the importance of those with either a mental health or substance use condition to recognize and seek treatment.

Socioeconomic Status

The relationship between socioeconomic status and drug use is complex. A study compared three different factors that influence childhood environment — parental income, household wealth and parental education — against rates of alcohol use, marijuana use and smoking. The study found that people from families with a low income, household wealth and parental education tended to have higher rates of smoking. However, the reverse was true for marijuana and alcohol.

Family History

Addiction is often tied to family history. It is difficult to know if genetics or the surroundings of the person led to their addictive behavior. Nevertheless, a person’s environment and genetics are known to be two main factors that contribute to addiction.

Consequences of Drug Addiction

Drug addiction can have a wide range of direct and indirect consequences. The effects often depend on the drug being used, how it is used, how much is used and the individual’s physical and mental health.

Some of the physical and health consequences of drug use and addiction include:

  • Organ damage
  • Prenatal and fertility problems
  • Gastrointestinal disease
  • HIV or AIDS

Emotional consequences of drug addiction may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Aggression
  • Paranoia and psychosis

Addiction can also lead to legal consequences, including:

  • Legal fines
  • Arrests, jail time and probation
  • Criminal record
  • Suspended driver’s license
  • Community service requirements

Social consequences of drug addiction include:

  • Job loss
  • Divorce
  • Relationship problems
  • Aggression toward loved ones

DUI Statistics

In 2016, 28% of all traffic-related deaths in the United States were caused by impaired driving. Every day, 29 people die from motor vehicle crashes that involve alcohol. More than 1 million people were arrested for DUI (alcohol or other narcotics) in 2016.

People under the influence of marijuana are 25% more likely to be involved in a crash that people without marijuana in their system.

Vehicle crashes related to alcohol have a total yearly cost of $44 billion in the United States each year.

Emergency Room Visits

According to the Drug Abuse Warning Network, drug-related emergency room visits in different areas of the United States each year include some of the following statistics:

  • Roughly 2.5 million emergency department visits were related drugs in 2011
  • 51% of these emergency visits involved illicit drug use
  • Of the emergency department visits that were due to illicit drug abuse, 25% involved an illicit substance combined with alcohol

Overdose Deaths

In 1999, the first year that the CDC began measuring overdose deaths, 16,849 people died from a drug overdose. That number has been steadily increasing each year. In 2017, that number rose to 70,237 deaths from a drug overdose.

Most overdose deaths occur in males (66%) versus females. Opioids are often the cause of overdose or part of the drug combination.

Cost of Addiction

The cost of addiction can far outweigh the cost of treatment. It is common for a person with a substance use disorder to spend thousands of dollars each year on drugs. The financial toll of this addiction goes beyond the person using and affects their friends, family, work and society. The average yearly costs of an addiction to specific drugs are as follows:

  • Alcohol: $5,000 yearly
  • Marijuana: $7,000 yearly
  • Cocaine: $5,200 yearly
  • Heroin: $18,250 yearly
  • Prescription Opiates: $32,850 yearly

Statistics on Addiction Treatment and Recovery

According to SAMHSA, approximately 21.2 million Americans aged 12 or older needed treatment for a drug or alcohol problem in 2018. Out of these 21.2 million who needed treatment, only about 3.7 million received some kind of substance use treatment.

Rates of Relapse

Relapse rates from addiction are similar to those of other chronic medical illnesses. The average relapse rate for most drug use cases ranges between 40–60%. However, it’s important to keep in mind that relapse does not indicate that treatment has failed. Many patients can still maintain long-term recovery after a relapse if they seek help immediately.

If you or a loved one is living with a drug or alcohol addiction that is affecting your life, The Recovery Village can help. People who live with addiction and co-occurring disorders can receive comprehensive treatment from one of the facilities located across the country. To learn more, call The Recovery Village today to speak with a representative.