A Snapshot of Drug and Alcohol Abuse in America

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

Drug and alcohol abuse in America is a subject of concern among many healthcare professionals. Many people don’t recognize that behavioral health has a direct effect on the health of Americans and healthcare costs. Though the abuse of some substances has declined over the past decade, the use of other substances has continued to rise. Further efforts to educate the public on the negative effects of marijuana, prescription drugs and other illegal substances are still needed.

National Trends on Drug and Alcohol Abuse

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, an estimated 22.6 million Americans over the age of 12 used an illicit drug or abused a prescription medication in the year 2010. That represents 8.9 percent of the population, up from 8.3 percent in 2002. This rise is primarily attributed to increase marijuana use. However, alcohol use declined over the period from 2002 to 2010, with binge drinking dropping from 19.3 to 17 percent. Heavy drinking went from 6.2 to 5.1 percent of the population during that time. Driving under the influence of alcohol also declined, from 14.2 percent in 2002 to 11.4 percent in 2010.   It’s clear that while some rates are declining, many Americans still suffer from drug and alcohol abuse problems.

National Survey on Drug Use And Health 2011

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health is a survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. In 2011, 8.7 percent of Americans over the age of 12 used illicit drugs, down only slightly from 2010. These drugs include marijuana, hashish, cocaine, crack cocaine, heroin, hallucinogenic drugs, inhalants and prescription psychotherapeutic drugs such as tranquilizers, stimulants, sedatives and painkillers. Marijuana is the most common drug used, and the rate of use increased from 5.8 percent to 7.0 percent from 2007 to 2011. The 2011 survey finds that males between the ages of 12 to 20 were more likely to use alcohol, binge drink or drink heavily than females. Rates of alcohol abuse were slightly lower in 2011 for male drinkers, but have remained steady since 2010.  Other drug and alcohol abuse rates, including those of heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and hallucinogens decreased or remained the same.

Treatment for Drug and Alcohol Abuse

The availability of substance abuse treatment has a significant effect on continued drug and alcohol abuse. The 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health surveyed the need for “specialty treatment” that included treatment and rehabilitation facilities, in-patient hospitals and mental health centers. Only 10.8 percent of those who needed treatment for drug or alcohol abuse received it at a specialty facility. While there has been a significant increase in substance abuse education and training in the general healthcare industry, it is widely understood that people experience the best results and have the best chance at long-term recovery when they undergo treatment in a specialty facility.  The 2011 study revealed that 46.4 percent of people at a specialty treatment facility used their own earnings or savings to pay for the treatment.

Many Americans suffer from drug and alcohol abuse problems.  As the 2011 SAMHSA report indicates, substance abuse problems are far from uncommon.  If you or someone you love is suffering from substance abuse problems, encourage them to seek help.