Drug Use Statistics

As of 2021, 45 million people are affected by drug use and addiction. Learn more about the impact of drug abuse here.     

Table of Contents

Facts on Drug Use

In 2019, over 165 million people used some sort of substance, including tobacco, alcohol, and illicit substances.1 Over this number, nearly 13% of individuals were reported to have developed a substance use disorder over the course of their use, and the drug use statics for various substance use disorders are on the rise. 

Why Are Drugs Addictive?

To better understand these statistics and the prevalence of substance use disorders in the United States, it is important to first understand the addictiveness of drugs and how use disorders develop.

Addiction occurs when the body becomes accustomed to the mental and physical effects produced as a result of substance use. For many substances, it is specifically a chemical change that causes addiction, such as an increase in dopamine produced by the central nervous system.

With regular administration, the body adapts to elevated brain chemical levels. As a result, the brain and body’s daily functioning becomes dependent on this new anatomy, despite the increased risk for different side effects.

As the body metabolizes and eliminates the substance, it can cause various negative effects, known as withdrawal symptoms, that cause physical and mental discomfort. These effects prompt additional substance use to subvert these withdrawal symptoms, which can become a cycle of addiction.

Data on First Time Drug Use

In 2016, 170,000 Americans used heroin for the first time, of which an estimated 25% developed a substance use disorder and addiction according to substance user disorder statistics.3

A 2016 study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that nearly 10% of full-time college students tried alcohol for the first time in the year prior, with 6% abusing illicit substances for the first time that same year. These numbers decrease slightly with part-time college students but still demonstrate a significant trend for people using drugs for the first time.4

Many individuals will be first exposed to substances, including alcohol or illicit drugs, in a group setting. College tends to be one of the most prevalent areas for this environment and situation to occur, but people using substances for the first time can and do appear in every age demographic. 

Type of Drug Abuse

Any type of substance, medication, compound, or drug can be abused when someone does not follow the instructions provided by a medical professional. However, not all drug abuse is the same. Substance abuse can manifest in many ways, both intentional and accidental. 


Unintentional drug abuse occurs when it is not an individual’s intent to misuse the substance. Most often, it occurs as a result of a misunderstanding either between the patient and their doctor or a misunderstanding of the instructions included with their prescription medicine. Unintentional drug abuse can include incidents where:
  • An individual is exposed to a substance accidentally, whether topically, through ingestion, or intravenously
  • An individual accidentally takes more of a substance than is prescribed
  • The wrong medication is prescribed for an individual
  • The patient misunderstands the specifics of their instructions, such as possible polydrug reactions.

Undetermined Intent

Undetermined intent is often referenced regarding an overdose, specifically one that is fatal and thus unable to be discussed to understand the intent. In these situations, it cannot be known whether this drug abuse occurred intentionally or accidentally. 

Intentional Self-harm

Like undetermined intent, intentional self-harm is most often referenced in the case of an overdose. In this situation, a substance or multiple substances are abused because of psychological and emotional distress with the intention of suicide.

Causes of Addiction

While the general cause of addiction is understood – that is, the rewiring of the brain’s reward circuit in response to chemical changes – there is no one cause for why someone may develop a substance use disorder.

There are, however, several different causes that can increase the likelihood of substance use disorders. 


The study of genetics and its relation to substance use disorder vulnerability is not a new one. As one of the leading suspected causes for addiction, how genetics play a role in substance use disorders is often a topic of research and conversation. While studies have yet to identify specific genetic regions responsible for increased vulnerability to the development of addiction and substance use disorders, there have been several breakthroughs that solidified genetics as a plausible cause for addiction.

Environmental Factors

Environmental factors can impact an individual both genetically and psychologically, leading to greater vulnerability towards drug use and the development of a substance use disorder.

Throughout history, many studies have been conducted on the influence of environmental factors on gene expression. As such, it is hypothesized that this may also attribute to susceptibility to substance abuse disorders, especially if there is a link between drug use and genetics. Certain environmental attributes may be able to activate certain genes, increasing the risk for substance abuse and the development of addiction.

Environmental factors can also pose an influence on psychology. Certain environments may create an atmosphere of normality and acceptance around substance abuse, especially instances with other individuals suffering from substance use disorders. It can create more opportunities for exposure to substance abuse, thereby greatly increasing the likelihood of addictions. 

Mental Health Disorders

Comorbidity and co-occurring disorders are the medical terms used to describe the simultaneous presence of two or more mental disorders, especially mental health disorders and substance use disorders.

As of 2018, 7.7 million adults were affected by co-occurring mental health disorders and substance use disorders.6 While both disorders can develop and exist independently, it is also possible for one to cause the other. For example, substance use disorders can develop because of self-treating mental health disorders or can occur as a result of prescription medication dependence or abuse.

Prescription Medication Dependence

One of the leading causes of drug use and addiction is prescription medication dependence, though it is often viewed differently than illicit drug abuse.7

When the body is regularly exposed to a substance, it quickly adapts to that substance and the effects are reduced. For medication prescribed for certain issues, such as a mental or pain disorder, the body will adapt to the medication and the symptoms of that disorder may reemerge. As a result, many individuals will begin to stray from the medical instructions to subvert the body’s adaptations to continue symptom management.

This misuse, as a result, can lead to substance use disorders and addictions because the body’s tolerance to the substance becomes so high that un-medicated states of being are almost intolerable. The dependency on prescription medication is often a more common cause of substance abuse and addiction than illicit substances. 

Statistics on Addiction in America

The United States is ranked in the top ten countries with prevalent opiate abuse, a statistic that appears in similar forms for other substances.

However, when attempting to foster a better understanding of addiction in America, it is important to also consider other related statistics, such as the prevalence of overdoses as well as the most affected populations. 

Drug Overdose

In 2019 alone, there were 70,630 drug overdose deaths in the United States, 70.6% of which involved opioids. This number amounts to a total of 49,860 drug overdose deaths involving opioids in 2019, which poses an increase from previous years in the rate of overdose deaths per 100,000. There is a specific increase being seen in the number of overdose deaths occurring from stimulant abuse.8

There have also been significant geographical changes in terms of drug overdoses. While the East and Midwest previously maintained higher rates of overdose for certain substances, it has shifted towards the West and Northeast respectively. Out of all 50 states in the country, between 2018 and 2019, no state experienced a significant decrease in overdoses.

Drug overdoses reached a record high in the United States in 2020 with 93,331 deaths. During this year, twenty-eight states experienced an increase of more than 30% for drug overdose-related deaths. 

Healthcare Financial Cost

Regular drug use can lead to escalating health care costs, which is one reason why seeking treatment can be difficult. In cases of emergencies, substance use disorders can lead to hospitalization, incurring extremely high costs. 

Substance Use Disorder

Not all drug use is a substance use disorder. However, regular drug abuse can lead to the development of a substance use disorder, which is a mental disorder characterized by substance abuse and a vulnerability to addiction.

Substance use disorder, like addiction, can be caused by many aspects, though exact causes are not completely known. These theorized factors include genetics and environmental influences. 

Ages Most Affected

Many studies show that young adults are the most impacted by drug use. This demographic typically includes ages eighteen to twenty-five, which includes the average full-time college student. College is the most common time for illicit experimentation and is the period in which most young adults try alcohol for the first time. 

Drug Use Statistics on Specific Population

While addiction and substance use disorders have a significant impact on young adults according to statistics, drug use appears in nearly every age population, from adolescents to elderly adults. Different substances are more prevalent in different age groups based on availability, accessibility, and the side effects of usage. 

Adolescents (Ages 12-17)

Adolescent drug abuse is rare, but statistics have shown that reported instances are increasing. Childhood trauma is one of the leading factors for substance abuse disorders and drug use in this demographic. 

Young Adults (Ages 18-25)

In 2017, 14.8% of young adults aged eighteen to twenty-five suffered from substance abuse disorders, the highest percentage for all age groups. Alcohol is the most abused drug by young adults, followed by marijuana.

One of the reasons that substance abuse is most common in this demographic is due to the college population. Between parties and academics, drug use can manifest in several different forms, including alcohol abuse, illicit substance abuse, and prescription medication abuse, especially in the case of stimulants such as Adderall. 

Older Adults (Ages 26-64)

Following young adults, older adults ranging from twenty-six to sixty-four years old are one of the second most affected demographics. Much of this population includes older adults who developed substance use disorders as a result of drug abuse during their young adult years. However, addiction and drug use can also begin after the age of twenty-six. 

Elderly Adults (Ages 65+)

As of 2018, an estimated one million elderly adults suffer from substance use disorders and addiction. Like adolescents, elderly adults are more vulnerable due to unintentional drug abuse, although environmental changes during the time may increase the rate of intentional substance abuse as well.

Statistics on Addiction to Specific Substances

Different substances produce different rates of addiction and substance use disorders. Certain drug use may also be more common for certain age groups and populations. 

Meth Use Statistics

In recent years, meth abuse has grown more prevalent in the United States, with the rate of overdose in meth alone as well as in combination with other illicit substances on the rise. According to a 2017 study, an estimated 1.6 million people reported meth use within the previous year.10 

Cocaine Use Statistics

An estimated 5 million people reported regular use of cocaine in 2016. One year later in 2017, overdose deaths that involved cocaine increased by over 34%.

Opioid Statistics

Opioids are the most common cause of overdose and one of the most abused substances in the United States. Associated with nearly 73% of opioid overdose deaths in 2019, synthetic opioids pose one of the largest threats. 

Alcohol Statistics

Due to its availability and legal status, alcohol is the most abused substance in the United States and much of the rest of the world. Most individuals cite that their first time using alcohol was anywhere between twelve and twenty-five years of age. 

Marijuana Statistics

Marijuana is one of the most common illegal drugs abused in the United States. Research shows that, in 2015, approximately 4 million people in the US met the diagnosis for marijuana use disorder.11 

Prescription Drug Addiction Statistics

Prescription drug addictions can occur any time a prescribed substance is used in a way not intended by the prescribing medical professional. It occurs as a result of both intentional and accidental abuse, with rates of abuse rising as substances become more accessible. 


Like alcohol, tobacco is a highly addictive legal drug. Over 50 million United States citizens use tobacco products.


There are several forms of hallucinogens currently available illicitly, including LSD and ecstasy, which are two of the most common. Statistics have shown that hallucinogens are more commonly abused in younger demographics, especially in high school. 

Drug Overdose Statistics

Government statistics show that the rate of overdose deaths has tripled since 1990, with nearly one hundred individuals dying every day as a result of substance abuse. 

Illicit Drugs

Illicit drugs are one of the leading causes of overdoses, second only to prescription opioid abuse. In 2019, approximately 50,000 individuals in the US died from opioid-related overdoses.12 

Prescription Drugs

In 1999, less than 5,000 deaths occurred as a result of prescription opioids. This number continued to increase annually until it reached its peak in 2017, with over 17,000 prescription opioid overdose deaths that year. As of 2019, however, the annual prescription opioid overdose total had decreased to an estimated 14,000 deaths that year.13

In every year, males comprised a larger percentage of prescription drug overdose deaths than females. 

Drug Overdose Death Data

An estimated 841,000 people have died from drug overdoses since 1999, an average of over 38,000 people each year. However, in 2019, over 70,000 people died from a drug overdose in the United States alone.13

Drug overdoses have quickly become one of the leading causes of death in the United States as the prevalence of drug abuse increases. As of 2019, opioids are the most common cause of death, with over 70% of overdoses that year caused by opioids – specifically synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. 

Addiction Treatment Statistics

In understanding the prevalence of drug addiction, it is also important to understand the statistics and facts surrounding addiction treatment. 

How Many Need Treatment vs. How Many Receive Treatment?

Substance use disorders pose a variety of health risks and dangers and, as a result, require treatment to aid in a successful recovery and improved health and wellbeing.

In 2018, 21.2 million individuals over the twelve of age were personally impacted by a substance use disorder requiring treatment.14 However, only a percentage of those with a substance use disorder each year will seek the treatment needed. 

Why Go to Professional Rehab Centers?

While there is a noticeable gap in the number of individuals with substance use disorders versus those who receive professional treatment, professional rebab centers must be offered and made available to every demographic.

A professional treatment provides a better rate of success regarding recovers while also minimizing the possible dangers that could occur with at-home treatment of drug use and addiction. 

Dangers Of At-Home Detox

While detoxification, or detox, is an important part of addiction treatment, it should be undergone in a medical environment for two specific reasons.

First, detoxification allows the body time to completely metabolize and eliminate any traces of a substance present. With addiction, the body is accustomed to altered brain chemistry, and detoxing can cause uncomfortable physical and psychological symptoms during what is known as withdrawal.

The severity of withdrawal can vary depending on the substance abused and the frequency and dosage of administration. One of the most common withdrawal symptoms is cravings, which is a psychological symptom revolving around the intense need of the body to be exposed to the substance. As a result, undergoing detox at home can lead to relapse with a higher potential for overdose since cravings can cause binge usage.

However, at-home detoxification can also be dangerous due to the nature of some substances. Some drugs require tapering to ensure a safe detox. If drug use stops immediately, it could cause severe side effects, including seizures. 

Reduction In Prescription Opioids

Prescription opioids are one example of a commonly abused substance that requires a tapered dose. Attempting to taper a dose at home for detoxification or forgoing the tapering phase altogether can result in a variety of health problems and more severe withdrawal symptoms, which can impede the success rate of recovery. 

The Rate of Relapsing

Relapses are a common part of recovery and are not a sign of failure. In fact, it is estimated that up to 60% of patients will experience a relapse at least once in their recovery journey.

Different situations can play a role in the current relapse rate, with events like COVID-19 eliciting a noticeable rise in the risk of relapse.15 

Why Seek Professional Help?

There are many reasons to seek professional treatment over at-home self-treatment, although the costs may be more than the latter option.

One of the main reasons to seek professional help is to help minimize the relapse rate. Professional rehab centers have the resources and the staff available to provide multifaceted treatment, unlike at-home treatments. Professional treatment also accounts for aftercare and relapse prevention to provide care beyond treating the immediate substance use disorder.

Seeking professional help can decrease the likelihood of addiction by providing safe and healthy methods to ease the severity of withdrawal and its symptoms.

In a professional medical setting, a health practitioner can monitor a patient’s status and provide care as needed. This care includes providing the right resources to help manage some of the most common sources of discomfort during withdrawal, such as headaches or nausea. 

Addiction Treatment at The PAC Program

The PAC Program offers a variety of addiction treatments designed to address substance abuse disorders from multiple perspectives to promote a higher efficiency treatment program. While many programs are designed to aid through the recovery process, there are also options suitable for those graduating from in-patient treatment to out-patient treatment, such as relapse prevention. 


Detoxication is one of the most important steps in recovery from addiction. For the body to begin to recover from the side effects of a substance, it must first completely metabolize and climate the substance. This is done by ceasing usage and is known as detoxification.

Often, detoxes can lead to a period of psychological and physical discomfort known as withdrawal, which can increase the risk for relapse if undergone without the guidance of a medical professional.

The PAC Program offers the medical assistance needed to pursue a safe detox with various withdrawal treatment options to alleviate discomfort and increase the likelihood of a successful recovery. 


Medication-assisted treatment, better known as MAT, is a form of addiction treatment that utilized prescription medication alongside therapy to provide a multifaceted approach to substance use disorder treatments.

MAT is often used not only to aid in recovery by alleviating discomfort but sustain recovery. While therapies and counseling are used to foster a better understanding of past traumas and the relationships between thoughts and behaviors, medications can be used to restore natural brain chemistry and alleviate the discomfort associated with withdrawal. 


An aftercare plan is one of the best ways to prepare for future challenges when working towards long-term recovery. It involves establishing support systems and plans for relapse prevention outside of rehabilitation programs. 

Relapse Prevention

For many, recovery does not end with an in- or outpatient program. Relapse prevention can come in many forms, such as therapy or support groups, and is utilized to aid in long-term recovery from addiction. 


If you or a loved one needs help, please call us at
623-523-4748 and our team at Blueprints For Recovery in Arizona will help.

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