In September 2018, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) released the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), which gives a snapshot of mental health and substance abuse across the nation.

The NSDUH is an annual nationwide survey that offers both national and state-level data on the use of illicit drugs, alcohol and tobacco as well as mental health in the United States. The primary objective of the study is to identify patterns and provide data to better serve at-risk groups and address areas of concern.

The annual target sample size for the survey was 67,500 interviews of people ages 12 or older, divided into several age groups. These interviews were spread across all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Here are some of the highlights, key findings and areas of concern revealed in the latest study.

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SAMHSA reports that 19.7 million Americans reported in 2017 of having a substance use disorder in the past year. (Source: SAMHSA)

Substance Use Disorders

About 19.7 million Americans ages 12 or older had a past-year substance use disorder in 2017. This statistic includes 14.5 million people who dealt with an alcohol use disorder and 7.5 million who had a substance use disorder involving illicit drugs.

The study found that about 4.1 million Americans had a marijuana use disorder in 2017. That year, about 2.1 million Americans had an opioid use disorder, a majority of which (1.7 million people) were dependent on or addicted to prescription pain relievers.

Tobacco Use

The United States had an estimated 48.7 million current cigarette smokers in 2017, which includes 27.8 million people who smoked daily and 11.4 million people who reported smoking a pack or more of cigarettes each day. However, these numbers have declined across all age groups from 2002 to 2017.

Alcohol Use

The NSDUH reports on several categories of alcohol use: heavy alcohol use, binge alcohol use and past month alcohol use.

Binge alcohol use is considered to be the consumption of five or more drinks for men and four for women on one occasion during the past month. Heavy alcohol use is considered five or more instances of binge drinking over a 30-day period.

Approximately 140.6 million Americans ages 12 or older were considered current alcohol users in 2017. Of those, 66.6 million qualified as binge drinkers and 16.7 million as heavy drinkers.

Underage drinking continues to be an issue, with 1 in 5 people ages 12 to 20 drinking alcohol in the past month, and 1 in 8 qualifying as binge drinkers. While these figures are similar to the past two years’ reports, they are lower than the figures reported from 2002 through 2014.

Illicit Drug Abuse

Drug addiction continues to be a pervasive issue in this country. The latest NSDUH report indicated that 30.5 million Americans ages 12 or older abused illicit drugs in the past month in 2017. This is roughly 11.2 percent of the population. Abuse among younger adults and the abuse of certain drugs stand out.

Among Americans who abused illicit drugs, 26 million reported using marijuana and 3.2 million reported the abuse of prescription pain relievers. Other drugs listed include cocaine, methamphetamine, inhalants, hallucinogens and heroin. Marijuana abuse among young adults is up while abuse among adolescents has decreased.

Opioid addiction and abuse is also a serious concern. The study revealed that 11.4 million people reported in 2017 that they abused opioids in the past year, including 11.1 million tied to prescription painkillers and 886,000 to heroin.

Of those who abused opioids, more than half (62.6 percent) said that they did so because of physical pain and 53.1 percent reported obtaining the drugs from a relative or friend. SAMHSA has also issued an opioid overdose prevention toolkit to help reduce the rate of opioids overdoses and deaths.

The latest NSDUH reports that 11.4 million Americans reported in 2017 that they abused opioids in the past year. Source: SAMHSA

Substance Use – Perceived Risk

The annual study also asked respondents questions about the perceived harm from different substances to gauge sentiment and the level of awareness about drug abuse.

More than 4 out of 5 people surveyed saw weekly heroin or cocaine abuse as having a great risk, but just one-third saw the same level of risk associated with weekly marijuana abuse.

Roughly 2 out of 3 people felt it was very risky to have four or five alcoholic drinks per day, and close to 3 in 4 people saw smoking a pack or more of cigarettes a day as risky.

Co-Occurring Disorders

When a mental health issue is present alongside a substance use disorder, this is called a co-occurring disorder. The latest NSDUH reveals that 26.6 million people in the United States ages 18 or older reported in 2017 of having a mental illness in the past year.

Among people who reported experiencing a mental illness, 11.2 million adults were considered to have a serious mental illness. These figures were similar to the prior year but higher than numbers reported from 2008 to 2015.

The survey also reported that 8.5 million U.S. adults simultaneously had a mental illness and a substance use disorder in 2017. Only about half received past-year treatment for either disorder and 1 in 3 received no treatment at all.

Treatment for Substance Abuse

Many Americans worry about the perceived lack of adequate resources for addiction treatment in the country. The survey revealed that 20.7 million Americans ages 12 or older needed addiction treatment in 2017, but less than 20 percent (4 million) received any type of treatment.

Only about 2.5 million people received addiction treatment at a specialty facility in 2017. Roughly one-third of those who wanted treatment either had no health care coverage or could not afford the cost.

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