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

Some of the most commonly abused substances include:

  • Alcohol
  • Marijuana
  • Cocaine
  • Heroin
  • Prescription drugs
  • Stimulants
  • Hallucinogens

Alcohol Statistics

Alcohol is a legal substance. Its wide availability may be one reason alcohol is one of the most commonly abused substances. Alcohol addiction often goes untreated because the substance is legal, making it appear 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.

Marijuana Statistics

Approximately 7,000 people try marijuana for the first time each day. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana is currently the most commonly used illicit drug.

Cocaine Statistics

There were 1.5 million people aged 12 or older who used cocaine in 2013. The age range of people who use cocaine has not changed much since 2002. The same study shows the use of cocaine is only 0.1 percent for ages 14–15 and 0.4 percent for people ages 16–17.

Heroin Statistics

Heroin is a dangerous drug that contains a high risk of addiction, overdose and bloodborne diseases such as HIV, depending on the method of use. In 2016, there were about 948,000 Americans who reported having used heroin in the past year. As the trend has been on the rise, heroin use continues to remain among people between the ages of 18 and 24. In 2016, there were 170,000 reported people who used heroin for the first time, while there were 90,000 reported in 2006.

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 1.2 million people reported using methamphetamine in the past year, according to the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The use of amphetamines has increased within college communities. According to a survey conducted by The Michigan Daily, 25 percent of college-aged respondents said they used a central nervous stimulant to improve school performance.

Hallucinogens Statistics

Among 9th through 12th-grade high school students in America who stated they have used hallucinogens at least once in their lifetime, the highest usage comes from Hispanic males. The lowest rate of hallucinogen use in this group was among high school African American female students.  A study from 2010 showed an estimated 32 million American residents used LSD, psilocybin, mescaline or peyote at some point in their lives.

Demographics of Addiction

Despite the stereotypical image of someone who uses drugs, some factors may create a higher risk of drug addiction. Addiction may target certain individuals depending on their location, gender, ethnicity, and age.

Addiction Trends by Location

Even though drug use is often seen as a problem in cities, rural areas hold higher rates of alcohol and non-heroin opiates, while people living in urban areas ranked higher for rates of cocaine and heroin use. Because rural communities have limited resources for treatment and recovery, these citizens may not seek treatment.


The National Institute of Drug Abuse reported that 24.6 percent of adults over the age of 12 in the United States had used illicit drugs in the last 30 days. Though addictive substances cause issues among all age groups, the growing area of concern are the baby boomers, as many struggle with addictions to prescription drugs.


The earlier onset of drug abuse usually indicates a higher likelihood of future addiction. Alcohol and drug use in teens may morph into a pattern of unsafe behaviors. Teens may be more likely to abuse dangerous drugs that are more readily available to them through their parent’s medicine cabinet, club drugs that appeal to the younger age groups, and over the counter products that have a possibility of giving them a high.


A 2010 review of emergency room reports showed 60 percent of people who used illicit substance were between the ages of 50 and 54. The same study showed seniors reported the use of illicit drugs like marijuana, cocaine, and heroin for their chronic pain.


The National Survey on Drug Use and Health conducted a study in 2013 that indicated that males in the United States are generally more likely to abuse drugs than females. The study showed that 11.5 percent of males age 12 and older used illegal drugs, compared to only 7.3 percent of females.


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:

  • Caucasians: 9.5 percent
  • African Americans: 10.5 percent
  • American Indians and Alaskan Natives: 12.3 percent
  • Asians: 3.1 percent
  • Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders: 14 percent
  • Hispanics: 8.8 percent

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 percent of adults with less than a high school degree were current alcohol drinkers, compared to 69.2 percent of college graduates. The rate of illicit drug use among college graduates is only 6.7 percent. Approximately 10 percent 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 percent. Research also shows that illicit drug use for those who are employed full time is around 9.1 percent, while part-time employment ad illicit drug use was 13.7 percent.

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 National Alliance on Mental Illness states that 53 percent of people living with drug addiction also have one or more serious mental health disorders. Many of these individuals self-medicate using drugs or alcohol, sometimes without even knowing they have a mental health disorder. About 20 percent of adults living with depression last year had abused a substance. According to a Psychiatric Times article, patients diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder have a drug abuse rate of 25 to 30 percent.

Socioeconomic Status

Substance abuse tends to be more widespread among low-income families than in middle or high-income families. Approximately 20 percent of people who are receiving welfare benefits in America reported using an illicit drug in the past year. Substance use rates also tend to be higher among people who are homeless.

Family History

Addiction is often tied to family history. It is difficult to know if genetics or the surroundings of the person lead 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 consequences of drug 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

Alcohol continues to hold its place as the leading cause of motor vehicle deaths. A study of deaths due to vehicular accidents found that 9,878 people were killed in 2011 in crashes involving alcohol, which made up 31 percent of all vehicle fatalities. Studies also show that over 11 percent of Americans have driven while under the influence of alcohol.

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:

  • Nearly 4.6 million emergency department (ED) visits are related drugs each year
  • 45 percent of those ED visits involve drug abuse
  • Of the emergency department visits that were due to illicit drug abuse, 14 percent of those involved the illicit substance combined with alcohol

Overdose Deaths

Nearly 70,000 Americans died from a drug overdose in 2017. From 1999 to 2017, more than 700,000 people died from a drug overdose. Considering opioids alone, the number of overdose deaths in 2017 was six times higher than that number in 1999.

Cost of Addiction

The cost of maintaining an addiction can far outweigh the cost of treatment. It is common for a person with a substance abuse disorder to spend thousands each year to maintain their addiction. 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 23 million Americans needed treatment for a drug or alcohol abuse problem in 2013. Out of these 23 million, slightly less than 11 percent receive treatment at a rehab facility. This statistic suggests that most people with substance abuse problems are not seeking treatment that they require.

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 percent. However, it’s important to keep in mind that relapse does not indicate that treatment has failed. Many patients can succeed in recovery after a relapse if they seek help immediately following the relapse.

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. “National Estimates of Marijuana Use and Related Indicators — National Survey on Drug Use and Health, United States, 2002–2014.” September 2, 2016. Accessed February 2019.

Crane, E. “Highlights of the 2011 Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) Findings on Drug-Related Emergency Department Visits”. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration 2013 Feb 22. Accessed January 19, 2019. “DEA Releases 2017 National Drug Threat Assessment.” October 23, 2017. Accessed February 2019

Kushner, M., Specker, S. “Substance Use Disorders in Patients with Anxiety Disorders.” Psychiatric Times. September 7, 2011. Accessed January 19, 2018

McCabe, Sean Esteban et al. “Race/ethnicity and gender differences in drug use and abuse among college students” Journal of ethnicity in substance abuse vol. 6,2 (2007): 75-95. Accessed January 19, 2018

National Coalition for the Homeless.  “Substance Abuse and Homelessness.” (July 2009). Accessed January 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What is the scope of heroin use in the United States?”. June 2018, Accessed February 2019