Who Uses Drugs? Social and Economic Risk Factors

woman who may be using drugs

Drug and alcohol addiction has no bias. It can happen to anyone. From the homeless man who lives under the bridge near your house to the top-level executives at your office, sometimes those who are most affected by addiction are the people we least expect.

Surprising Factors that May Increase the Risk of Addiction

A research study published in May of 2017 in the Journal of Development and Psychopathology found some factors that most people would consider to be good, can actually increase a young person’s likelihood of developing drug and alcohol addiction down the road.1 Factors cited in the study included:

  • Living in an affluent, well-to-do neighborhood
  • Having disposable income
  • Attending a high school that is distinguished and highly-regarded

The 2017 study reported that its subjects, who were all upper-middle-class citizens, were much more likely to develop substance use disorders later in life. In fact, the rate of substance abuse problems among these individuals was two to three times higher than that of the national average.1

Although it’s difficult to pinpoint an exact cause for these study results, it could involve a lack of parental involvement or simply that more money provides more opportunities for young people to access drugs and alcohol.

Who Are the Drug Overdose Victims?

Fatal drug overdose is a growing concern in America, and it is one of the leading causes of accidental deaths in the country.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drug overdose death rates were highest among people ages 35 to 44 (35 deaths per 100,000 population). Fatal drug overdoses were also significantly more common than female overdoses. Although overdose rates were also very high among people ages 25 to 34 and 45 to 54, this data shows that the people most affected by fatal overdoses are actually middle-aged men.2

Many people may assume that younger, less affluent people in low-income areas are the ones overdosing the most, but recent data contradicts that, suggesting middle-aged white men are being hit the hardest.3 An increasing number of these overdoses aren’t occurring in low-income, urban areas either. Many are taking place in affluent suburban communities all around the country.4

Drug Overdose Deaths in 2016

In 2016, there were more than 63,000 drug overdose deaths in the United States. But what drugs are the users taking?

Opioid overdoses continue to be a driving factor in the ongoing drug crisis in America. According to Psych Central, the people in the highest risk groups (ages 35 to 44, 25 to 34, and 45 to 54) are abusing prescription opioid drugs like hydrocodone and oxycodone.4 Statistics from the CDC support this. The rate of drug overdoses involving these drugs increased from 1.0 in 1999 to 4.4 in 2016.2

Although the abuse of prescription painkillers is common in the U.S., these drugs aren’t always easy to get, especially with lawmakers cracking down on regulation due to the ongoing opioid crisis. As a result, when prescription painkillers get too difficult to obtain, many addicted drug abusers transition to using heroin because it’s cheaper and easier to get. But heroin abuse is just as dangerous.

Heroin overdose deaths tripled between 2010 and 2015 and in 2015, it was responsible for 25 percent of all drug overdose deaths.4 But this isn’t a new problem. Since 1999, the rate of drug overdose deaths involving heroin increased from 0.7 (deaths per 100,000 population) to 4.9 (deaths per 100,000 population) in 2016.2

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    Which State Has the Most Drug Overdoses?

    The majority of 2016 fatal drug overdoses in the United States occurred in the states of West Virginia, Ohio, New Hampshire, the District of Columbia, and Pennsylvania. Conversely, Iowa, North Dakota, Texas, South Dakota, and Nebraska had the lowest rates of drug overdose deaths.2

    U.S. States with the Highest Rates of Drug Overdose Deaths in 2016
    U.S. State Drug Overdose Death Rate (per 100,000)
    West Virginia 52.0
    Ohio 39.1
    New Hampshire 39.0
    District of Columbia 38.8
    Pennsylvania 37.9


    U.S. States with the Lowest Rates of Drug Overdose Deaths in 2016
    U.S. State Drug Overdose Death Rate (per 100,000)
    Iowa 10.6
    North Dakota 10.6
    Texas 10.1
    South Dakota 8.4
    Nebraska 6.4


    How to Prevent Drug Overdose

    Reducing the number of drug overdose deaths among addicted drug users is a complex problem that requires a multi-faceted solution. Some of the most important aspects of preventing drug overdose are:

    • Providing ongoing education and awareness: Drug overdose prevention should include things like education about various drugs and addiction, prescription drug monitoring, increased parental involvement in young people’s lives, and access to Naloxone, as well as education on how to use it.
    • Addressing dependence, tolerance, and addiction right away: Although a person can overdose on drugs the very first time they use, long-term drug abuse increases a person’s risk of fatal overdose. Allowing a drug problem to fester could put someone at risk for overdose and/or death. A carefully planned one-on-one conversation or intervention may be the best way to get a loved one into drug detox and rehab.
    • Enrolling in long-term treatment after detox: An addicted person is much more susceptible to overdose after they have been sober for a period of time. During drug detox, drug tolerance will be lost, and the person will be much more likely to overdose if they return to their previous drug-using habits. Long-term drug and alcohol rehab provides a safe place for people to continue recovering while addressing behavioral problems and core issues that feed their addiction. This will also give them time to work through the 12-step program and establish positive relationships with sober peers.
    • Continuing treatment with recovery support services: After rehab, the risk of relapse and overdose is still present, as transitioning into a life of recovery takes a lot of time and continued effort. Sober living programs, personal monitoring programs, IOP, and regular attendance at 12-step support groups can provide accountability and support as people adjust to a lifestyle without drugs and alcohol.

    Addiction Help for Yourself or a Loved One

    If you or a loved one is suffering from addiction, getting help right away is the best way to prevent overdose and death. Briarwood Detox Center provides medically-assisted drug and alcohol detox and stabilization programs to help addicted individuals reach a stable and sober state before rehab.

    Unfortunately, drug overdose is far too common, but medically-assisted drug and alcohol detox treatment is the safest and most comfortable way to cease all drug and alcohol use. Our multi-faceted approach to treatment involves strategies from experienced clinical and medical staff to provide the most well-rounded and comprehensive detox available.

    Call Briarwood today to learn more about our individualized programs or to begin the enrollment process and your new life in recovery.



    1. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/development-and-psychopathology/article/adolescents-from-upper-middle-class-communities-substance-misuse-and-addiction-across-early-adulthood/FDB120DD01CC8CEE7A9FB3979306A57C
    2. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db294.pdf
    3. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/1886185
    4. https://blogs.psychcentral.com/addiction-recovery/2017/03/profile-of-a-drug-overdose-victim/

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