What Are Current Substance Abuse Statistics and Trends in America?

substance abuse in the US

Edited on October 7th, 2020

What Are Current Substance Abuse Statistics and Trends in America?

A brief look at the types of substance abuse that are most prevalent in the United States

Substance abuse and addiction in America is a growing epidemic, with 3 in 4 Americans suffering from alcohol abuse, 1 in 3 Americans abusing illicit drugs, and 1 in 9 abusing both illicit drugs and alcohol.1 The rates of mental illness are just as staggering, with 8.2 million people having both a substance use disorder and a mental illness in 2016.2

In order to provide high-quality drug detox and rehab programming, it’s important to understand the needs and substance abuse trends plaguing people across the nation. In this blog, we’ll take a brief look at the types of substance abuse that are most prevalent in the United States and the life-threatening effects this abuse has on addicted individuals.

Drug Overdose Statistics in the United States

Many people who are addicted and dependent on illicit or prescription drugs suffer drug overdoses as a result of their substance abuse. Drug overdoses can be accidental or intentional, and they happen when a person takes more than the recommended dosage of a prescription drug. An overdose may also occur when a person consumes an illicit drug (or combination of illicit drugs) to get high, but their metabolism cannot detoxify the drug fast enough.3

More than 67,300 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2018 and the majority of them involved opioids.4 In 2018:

  • More than 31,335 drug overdose deaths involved synthetic opioids other than methadone
  • 14,996 drug overdose deaths involved heroin
  • 46,802 drug overdose deaths involved any opioid
  • 14,666 drug overdose deaths involved cocaine
  • 12,676 drug overdose deaths involved psychostimulants including methamphetamine
  • 10,724 drug overdose deaths involved benzodiazepines

Statistics on Alcohol Abuse in the U.S.

An estimated 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes each year, making alcohol the third leading preventable cause of death in the U.S.5 A recent study published in JAMA Psychiatry found that 1 in 8 Americans struggles with alcohol abuse, raising serious concerns about our country’s attitudes concerning alcohol consumption.6 About 14.4 million adults in America had alcohol use disorder. Even teens and young adults are not immune to the effects of alcohol abuse. About 20 percent of college students in America meet the criteria for AUD and 401,000 adolescents ages 12 to 17 had alcohol use disorder in 2018.5

Unfortunately, the effects of alcohol abuse in the U.S. extend far beyond just the individual health consequences. More than 10 percent of children in America live with a parent who abuses alcohol and many of them suffer extreme neglect as well as emotional and sexual abuse as a result.5 This may also increase their own risk for addiction in the future as well.

The economic burden of alcohol addiction in America is also very high and cost our nation an estimated $249 billion in 2010. The majority of this cost is related to binge drinking.5

Although alcohol continues to be the most commonly abused addictive substance in the United States, many people never receive the treatment they need.7 Despite the common belief that quitting “cold turkey” is one of the best ways to beat alcohol addiction, it can actually be very dangerous. The withdrawal effects of alcohol addiction can be extremely uncomfortable, painful, and even deadly, so alcohol detox should always be completed in a medically-monitored environment like a detox center. Quitting alcohol with the assistance of a medically-trained staff will also improve the likelihood that a person will stay sober after completing detox.

Illegal Drug Abuse Statistics in the U.S.

Marijuana is the most commonly abused illegal drug in the U.S., with 15.9% of Americans (43.5 million people) ages 12 or older using it.8,9 Although opinions on the dangers of marijuana use vary in different regions across the country, other illegal drugs that are universally known to cause severe physical, mental, and emotional damage are still abused quite heavily in the U.S. 

In 2018:

  • 53.2 million Americans reported using illegal drugs in the past year.9
  • 0.7 percent of Americans (1.9 million people) ages 12 and older reported using methamphetamines in the past year.9
  • 0.3 percent of Americans (808,000 people) ages 12 and older reported using heroin in the past year.9
  • 5.5 million people ages 12 and older reported using cocaine in the past year. About 2 percent of the population used cocaine and 0.3 percent used crack.9
  • 2 percent of Americans (5.6 million people) ages 12 and older reported using hallucinogens in the past year.9
  • 0.7 percent of Americans (2 million people) ages 12 and older reported using inhalants in the past year.9
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    Prescription Drug Addiction Statistics in the U.S.

    The opioid crisis in America is largely driven by prescription opioid misuse. For example, did you know that on an average day more than 650,000 opioid prescriptions are dispensed and 3,900 people are abusing prescription opioids?10 Many of the people who end up addicted to prescription opioids and other drugs don’t intentionally start out that way but may find the pleasurable effects of the drugs to be powerfully motivating for continued use.

    Long-term use of prescription opioid drugs is typically not recommended because it can lead to dependence and addiction. In some instances, addiction to prescription opioid medications can even lead to more dangerous illicit drug use. In fact, four in five (80 percent) new heroin users started out misusing prescription painkillers.11

    Additionally, prescription drug abuse in America extends beyond just opioid abuse. Here are a few startling statistics regarding prescription drug abuse in the U.S.

    • In 2018, 6.2% of Americans (16.9 million people) ages 12 and older abused prescription drugs at least once in the past year.9
    • In 2018, 9.9 million Americans ages 12 or older abused prescription painkillers at least once in the past year, compared to 5.1 million who misused prescription stimulants, and 6.4 million who misused prescription tranquilizers or sedatives.9
    • Deaths attributed to benzodiazepines increased 5-fold from 1999 to 2009.12
    • 58% of drug-related suicide attempts in 2006 involved the use of benzodiazepines.13
    • 53% of prescription drug abusers get their drugs from a friend or relative for free.14
    • Prescription opioid abuse costs the nation $55 billion in health and social costs each year.15

    The Ongoing Opioid Crisis In the United States

    The ongoing opioid crisis has cost the U.S. $1 trillion since 2001 and it has cost Americans even more in regards to our health and wellness, with 115 Americans dying every day from opioid overdose.16,17

    In 2018, 10.3 million Americans (about 3.7 percent of the total population) misused opioids in the past year.9 In addition, from 2002 to 2015 there was a 2.8 fold increase in the total number of deaths involving opioids drugs, and from 2002 to 2015 there was a 6.2-fold increase in the total number of deaths involving heroin, further emphasizing the need for a nationwide solution.18

    The increasing abuse of illicit opioid drugs such as heroin, fentanyl, and carfentanil are also causing major concerns as overdoses caused by these drugs continue to claim the lives of Americans.

    Ongoing debates about the cause of this crisis continue, citing the overprescribing of prescription opioids by doctors, a lack of prescription opioid regulation, and various other causes for concern.

    The Trump administration declared the national opioid crisis a public health emergency back in October of 2017, but many lawmakers and politicians are calling for bolder action to combat the opioid abuse in America.19

    Drug Detox and Addiction Treatment for Addicted People in America

    Despite the growing concerns and startling statistics surrounding substance abuse in America, many addicted people still don’t get the drug and alcohol detox and addiction treatment services they need to recover fully. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, only about 7.9 percent of adults and 5 percent of youth who had alcohol use disorder in the past year received treatment.5

    Of the many reasons cited for not receiving addiction treatment, most people who needed treatment yet did not receive it, said it was due to the following reasons:20

    • They were not ready to stop using drugs.
    • They couldn’t afford treatment.
    • They worried about it negatively affecting their job.
    • They were worried about what others would think of them.
    • They didn’t know where to go for treatment.
    • They could not find a program with the type of treatment they needed.

    Of those who did receive addiction treatment in the past year, most individuals with a substance use disorder received treatment for alcohol abuse.

    • In 2018, about 3.7 million people ages 12 or older (1.4 percent of the population) received substance abuse treatment in the past year.9
    • In 2018, about 686,000 people ages 12 or older received treatment for alcohol use disorder at a specialty facility in the past year.9
    • In 2018, about 743,000 people ages 12 or older received treatment for an illegal drug use disorder at a specialty facility in the past year.9
      • 19.7 percent had an opioid use disorder.9
      • 19 percent had a cocaine use disorder.9
      • 18.1 percent had a methamphetamine use disorder.9
      • 17.6 percent had a tranquilizer or sedative use disorder.9
      • 9.3 percent had a stimulant use disorder.9

    If you or a loved one is in need of addiction treatment, Briarwood Detox Center can help get you started on the road to recovery with medically-assisted drug and alcohol detox programs. Call our detox center today to learn more about our individualized programs and insurance coverage options.


    1. http://www.drugwarfacts.org/node/1401
    2. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-FFR1-2016/NSDUH-FFR1-2016.htm
    3. https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/drug-overdose#1
    4. https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates
    5. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-facts-and-statistics
    6. https://www.cnn.com/2017/08/10/health/drinking-alcoholism-study-trnd/index.html
    7. https://www.ncadd.org/about-addiction/alcohol/facts-about-alcohol
    8. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/report_2404/ShortReport-2404.html
    9. https://www.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/topics/data_outcomes_quality/nsduh-ppt-09-2017.pdf
    10. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/cbhsq-reports/NSDUHNationalFindingsReport2018/NSDUHNationalFindingsReport2018.pdf 
    11. http://www.legis.state.tx.us/tlodocs/85R/handouts/C2102017082210001/cc0a3434-293c-4456-b103-77d96efdd7f9.PDF
    12. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/relationship-between-prescription-drug-heroin-abuse/prescription-opioid-use-risk-factor-heroin-use
    13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24436437
    14. https://archive.samhsa.gov/data/dawn/files/ED2006/DAWN2k6ED.pdf
    15. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/report_2686/ShortReport-2686.html
    16. https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/senior_lawyers/session%201%20-%20Opioid%20Misuse%20Older%20Adults5.authcheckdam.pdf
    17. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/amazon-laying-off-hundreds-uber-wants-drivers-rest-more-rundown/
    18. https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids/opioid-overdose-crisis
    19. https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates
    20. https://www.npr.org/2017/10/26/560083795/president-trump-may-declare-opioid-epidemic-national-emergency
    21. http://www.narconon.org/blog/drug-addiction/why-many-people-dont-seek-treatment-for-addiction/

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