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Substance Abuse and Addiction Statistics in the United States

Every year, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services sponsors the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). This annual report is used by various government agencies, addiction treatment centers, healthcare providers, and others to obtain the most accurate statistics on drug and alcohol use in the United States. The report also provides data on tobacco usage.

Based on data from the 2018 NSDUH report and the 2019 NSDUH report, drug and alcohol abuse rates have increased.1,2 The increase is in part due to the legalization of marijuana in several states for medicinal and recreational purposes. Another contributing factor of the increase in use is attributed to the ongoing abuse of prescription drugs.

How Common Is Substance Abuse in the United States?

Using the data from the NSDUH, it is possible to estimate various figures to get a better picture of drug addiction in the U.S. Part of the questions the people are asked is whether they are current users of any type of substance or alcohol and if they had ever used drugs at any time during their life.

Based on responses to these two questions, it was estimated for 2018 that there were 31.9 million people in the U.S. who were age 12 or older and current users of some kind of substance. Additionally, more than 50% of the people interviewed reported that they had used drugs or alcohol, including abusing prescription drugs, at some point in their lives.1

What Is the Most Commonly Used Drug in the U.S.?

According to the 2019 NSDUH annual report, marijuana is the most commonly used drug in the U.S., with 48.2 million people aged 12 or older estimated to be using marijuana.2 This increase is not really surprising given the fact that more states have legalized marijuana in some manner, either for medicinal purposes or recreational use.

Alcohol was the most-used psychoactive substance in 2019, with marijuana following in second. Psychoactive substances are those that alter one’s perceptions and cause some form of intoxication.

The second most commonly used drug reported by the 2019 NSDUH was the abuse of prescription painkillers and opioids.2 Opioids are drugs that are made from poppy plants. They include prescription drugs like Oxycontin and Vicodin, as well as illegal drugs like heroin. Also in this class is fentanyl, a synthetic opioid drug that is very potent and easy to overdose on.

The third most-abused substance in 2019, based on the data from the 2019 NSDUH, was cocaine. It was estimated there were approximately 97,000 people who used cocaine during the previous year and were aged 12 or older.2

How Many People Use Drugs in the United States?

When determining how many people use drugs in the United States, one must look at the demographics for various age groups. It is worth noting that drug addiction in the U.S. can affect anyone, regardless of gender, age, race, religion, or sexual orientation.

Reviewing data on the demographics of the various groups helps provide insight into where alcohol and drug abuse problems seem to a major issue. This data also helps develop programs—like outpatient addiction treatment programs—to help people struggling with substance abuse problems.

Ages 12 -17

Data from the 2019 NSDUH showed that 2.3 million teens had used alcohol at some point during the previous year. The data also indicated that around 414,000 teens had an alcohol addiction problem.3

Marijuana use was estimated at 1.8 million teens, with around 699,000 experiencing marijuana abuse problems. Opioid use did decrease since 2018, from 695,000 teens to 567,000 teens. Yet, 87,000 teens still had an opioid addiction problem.3

Opioid use for teens was 567,000. Out of those teens, about 87,000 were estimated to have an opioid addiction problem. Cocaine use among teens rose, from less than 0.05% or about 12,000 teens to 0.1% or about 34,000 teens, from 2018 to 2019.3

Ages 18 – 25

Teenagers drinking and smoking

For this age group, alcohol use was estimated to be 18.3 million people, with 3.1 million having an alcohol addiction problem. Marijuana use was estimated at 7.7 million young adults, with 2.5 million using marijuana daily and another 2 million having a marijuana addiction problem.3

Opioid use among young adults was 1.8 million, with 227,000 people suffering from opioid addiction. Cocaine use from 2018 to 2019 rose from 1.5% to 1.6%, with an increase of 16,000 young adults for a total estimate of 540,000 people.3

Ages 26 and Older

The data from the 2019 NSDUH reported alcohol use for this age group as 119.1 million, with approximately 11 million people suffering from alcohol abuse. For this age group, marijuana use was around 22 million adults, with 7.3 million using it daily, and 2.2 million people having a marijuana substance abuse problem.3

The use of opioids was estimated to be 10.1 million, with 1.3 million estimated to have an opioid substance abuse problem. Cocaine use for this age group did not change from 2018 to 2019, and it remained the same with 1.4 million people using cocaine.3

How Does the United States Compare with Other Countries?

According to drug addiction statistics data collected by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2019, the United States has the highest number of people with substance abuse problems.4  The top 10 countries in order from highest to lowest with substance abuse problems included:

  1. The United States
  2. Greenland
  3. Mongolia
  4. United Kingdom
  5. New Zealand
  6. Kazakhstan
  7. Poland
  8. Russia
  9. Brazil
  10. Denmark

What Are the Most Addictive Drugs?

Certain substances cause people to become addicted very quickly. They do this because they alter the chemicals and neurotransmitters in the brain in such a manner that can seem pleasurable to the person using the drugs.

  • Heroin – This drug in the opioid family can cause a person to develop a craving for it after trying it just once. It is also the drug of choice for people who are addicted to prescription opioids to turn to as a viable substitute.
  • Alcohol – Alcohol is one of the few regulated substances that is readily available legally. Developing an addiction to alcohol does take some time, but, as it is easily accessible, it is a popular choice for many people.
  • Cocaine – Cocaine is a stimulant that triggers alertness and euphoria by flooding the brain with dopamine. However, the effects are short-lived, which leads to people using more and more of it to maintain their “high” for longer periods.
  • Methamphetamine – Meth is a synthetic drug that mimics the effects of cocaine. However, the body quickly develops a tolerance to meth. So, abusers have to use more and more meth to achieve the desired effects, and that can quickly lead to dependence and addiction.

Impacts of Drug Addiction in the U.S.

The impacts of drug addiction in the U.S. will continue to be an issue for the foreseeable future. Perceptions about various drugs are changing, as with marijuana, and many places are legalizing it, so access to it is easier. In 2019, the NSDUH reported that marijuana use disorder among 12 to 17 year olds significantly rose after a gradual decline in use in 2016, 2017, and 2018.4

Given this data, the accessibility of addictive substances at an earlier age can create gateway drugs. For example, if a teen starts using tobacco, marijuana, or alcohol on a regular basis, there is a higher probability they will experiment with other substances like cocaine, heroin, or meth.

As the number of teen drug users grows, it could potentially have a trickle “up” effect, where the other age groups will also see an increase in drug abuse problems. Furthermore, teens and young adults with substance abuse problems will struggle to complete their education and find and maintain employment, and they could face legal problems that could have an impact on the rest of their lives.

How Inpatient and Outpatient Addiction Treatment Can Help

Female members of group therapy wearing face masks and greeting with elbows due to coronavirus pandemic.

Developing an addiction to drugs can take time for certain substances, as the body builds resistance to the drugs. With continued use of a drug, more and more of it is needed to achieve the same effects. From this increased usage, the body starts to depend on the drug to be able to function. This stage of addiction is referred to as drug dependency.

It can be very difficult to stop using the drug once one is dependent on it. As such, continuing to use the drug leads to complete addiction and the inability to stop using it, without help from an inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment center.

One should never suddenly discontinue using a drug when they are dependent or addicted to it. Doing so could result in serious side effects, including death. Supervised detox at a drug treatment center is necessary to ensure the person is properly weaned off the drug slowly.

In addition to helping people detox, a treatment center has different programs and therapies that can be used to overcome the addiction. Participating in these programs helps people learn how to live a sober lifestyle free from drugs and alcohol.

To learn more about our addiction treatment center in Delray Beach, FL and our addiction treatment programs, please feel free to contact RECO Intensive at 561-501-2439 today!


  1. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/cbhsq-reports/NSDUHNationalFindingsReport2018/NSDUHNationalFindingsReport2018.pdf
  2. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/reports/rpt29393/2019NSDUHFFRPDFWHTML/2019NSDUHFFR1PDFW090120.pdf
  3. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/reports/rpt29392/Assistant-Secretary-nsduh2019_presentation/Assistant-Secretary-nsduh2019_presentation.pdf
  4. https://vizhub.healthdata.org/gbd-compare/

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