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

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