The Statistics of Drug Addiction and Abuse in the United States

Here are a few numbers and statistics according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) about drug and alcohol addiction as well as the number of those who are seeking treatment.

* 22 million Americans have a substance abuse or dependency problem
* Only 2.5 million of them enter a hospital or clinic for treatment
* Number one drug of abuse in the United States: Marijuana
* Number two drug of abuse in the United States: prescription painkillers
* The amount that the U.S. Federal Government will spend fighting drug abuse: $12 billion

The Problem With Statistics

Dr. Wilson Compton is the director of the Division of Epidemiology Services and Prevention Research at the National Institute on Drug Abuse. He says, “The bottom line is, we learn about drug use by asking people about their behaviors. But because it’s survey research, there are multiple ways it can be improved.”

The problem with this is that there’s no way to know who’s telling the truth, who’s embellishing, who’s claiming an addiction problem when there isn’t one present or, more likely, claiming no problem with drug abuse or addiction when there is one. Hoping for a more truthful result, SAMHSA began using handheld computers so that people could answer the questions without facing another human in a face to face survey. They’ve also begun offering $30 as an incentive to get people to respond. And now, translation of Spanish answers that vary from Puerto Rico versus Cuba or Mexico is their current issue.

These surveys are cross referenced by checking the number of drug-related arrests in the area, drug seizures, emergency room visits related to drug use, abuse and/or overdose, mandatory drug tests at local companies, and deaths due to overdose. Of course, dealers and addicts who manage to stay below the radar are not counted.

New and Innovative Ways of Tracking Drug Addiction

One new way of determining who’s doing what and where is by taking samples from untreated sewage in a community and testing for the chemicals that the body creates when processing certain drugs. It’s very region specific and only tells the story of a short period but with regular samples, it could give a good indication of drug use in a particular area.

Changing Definitions and Drug Statistics

The other issue with statistics on drug abuse and addiction once the numbers are in is the language itself. American society tends to change its definitions of what constitutes abuse versus addiction, even whether or not something is a drug or not. Even if it is classified as a drug medically, many have a lax attitude about the harmful nature of certain drugs. For example, many don’t believe that marijuana is addictive or even consider alcohol a drug because of its legal status.

Have you ever answered one of these surveys? Where do you fit in the statistics?

Wendy Lee Nentwig

By Wendy Lee Nentwig
Guest Contributor

Articles posted here are primarily educational and may not directly reflect the offerings at The Canyon. For more specific information on programs at The Canyon, contact us today.

11 Responses

  1. Paige February 16, 2010

    Marijuana is the number one drug of abuse in the United States? I find it very hard to believe that there are more marijuana and pill addicts than there are alcoholics and alcohol abusers. Or do you not consider alcohol a drug? Please clarify whether or not you are including alcohol in the category of “drugs of abuse”. And if you’re not, you should be.

    • Daniel Paul Vines June 15, 2012

      Hon, I know what you mean. I’m another of the millions of alcohol abusers who are absolutely flabbergasted to hear that alcohol isn’t the highest thing abused. That’s because we are out in the open. Everybody sees us getting stupid. A lot of the stupid you see isn’t even from the alcohol though.Think a minute. Damn near everyone who smokes cigarettes also abuses weed. All those ladies hiding in the stalls in the bar smoking it and their guys in my bathroom too, going to their car to roll a joint, etc. Do you realize all the little grannies popping pills with abandon? Serious addicts, lol!!

  2. michaeel May 6, 2010

    paige, alcohol is a depressant not a drug so figure out ur facts before posting stuff

    • Howard February 24, 2012

      Paige is right AND alcohol is a drug. You also need to get your facts straight… Tabacco is a drug too.

  3. sara smith November 22, 2010

    actually according to the DSM or the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual used by all mental health professionals alcohol is infact a drug.
    So are depressants
    figure out your facts before posting

  4. anna November 30, 2010

    Is alcohol really a drug? I know that it impaires your senses and has major effects on the brain, but is it really a drug, or just “considered” a drug?

  5. xelle September 27, 2011

    YES. That this is not common knowledge is sad. Guess what? So is nicotine.

  6. Darina November 29, 2011

    it says the statistics about substance abuse. Includes both drugs and alcohol. boom

  7. sunil kumar rout December 28, 2012

    i am smoking alot,please tell me how can i leave it. mind it i am smoking ganja.

    • Raymond Kreyer January 12, 2013

      Sunil, My friend, you are suffering from a psychological addiction to tetrahydrocannabinol, (THC). A chemical found primarily in cannibas indica, and cannibas sativa, (Marijuana, Hashish, Weed, Ganja, etc.). Your type of dependance on this drug, (psychological), is not as difficult to treat and overcome as a physical dependance, such as opiates. You’ve already taken the first step in your recovery process, which is admitting that you have become powerless over your addiction, and I commend you for it. You are on your way. Let me tell you this, and this is coming from someone who has fought chemical dependancy for the last 12 years of my 53 year life, (after abusing substances for 30 years), that you CANNOT DO IT ALONE. Your addiction, be it physical or psychological, is stronger than you, and it requires that you seek help in combating it. I don’t know where in the world you are located, but there is help through 12 step recovery programs, such as AA, (Alcoholics Anonymous), or NA, (Narcotics Anonymous), virtually worldwide. If your local phone book does not list AA, NA, or other 12 step recovery programs, then here is a URL for AA.- At this site, there is a hyperlink, “Is AA for me?” ~and~ “How to find AA meetings” I know that alcohol is not your drug of choice, but not knowing where you are located, AA would be a good place for you to start seeking help for your addiciton, and AA is worldwide, after all, and addiction is an addiction, and they are the ones who started the 12 step recovery program that all the others have based theirs upon. Please seek treatment! If you are only using Ganja now, your chance of recovering from addiction is many times greater now, than if you let addiction become more of ruling your life with physically dependant drugs, such as amphetimines, cocaine, opiates, etc. And by the way, THC is what we call a gateway drug, which WILL lead you to the stronger drugs that I’ve just mentioned… Guaranteed. (Remember, you’re hearing it from someone who knows the real truth about drug addiction). I wish you the very best, my friend, and I pray that you will heed my advice. Don’t let drugs ruin your life like they did mine. You are in my thoughts and prayers… Raymond Kreyer

  8. Raymond Kreyer January 12, 2013

    Any mind altering substance falls under the classification of drugs of abuse which could lead to an addiction. Any one consuming any one or more of these substances, (from nicotine, alcohol, marijuana to heroin), needs to be aware that by doing so, they are greatly increasing their risk of becoming dependant on that substance, and may spend the rest of their lives fighting a disease for which there is no cure. End of story.