Drug Abuse Statistics & Prevention

drug abuse prevention and statictics facts

Despite the health risks, and the negative effects it causes in work and family relationships, drug abuse is still a significant problem in the US. Although there are numerous drug prevention programs, and the government’s “war on drugs,” people continue to experiment with both illegal and prescription medications.

Table of Contents

How Many People Abuse Drugs In the U.S.?

It is estimated that there are roughly 20.7 million people in the US who are addicted to drugs and require substance treatment. This includes illegal “recreational” or “street” drugs, as well as prescription medications. These are only known as addictions, and many others abuse or try drugs on an annual basis
Although street drugs are a problem, prescription medications are the most commonly abused, aside from Marijuana. 15 million people in the US abuse prescription drugs each year. Of these, many are young people. Over 2,500 teens will abuse prescription medication for the first time every single day. In a survey taken in 2007, over 3% of young people aged 12 to 17 had abused prescription medications in the past month. That number rose to 6% among 17 to 25-year-olds.

How Many Overdoses Are Caused By Prescription Drugs Compared To Illegal Drugs?

Compared to illegal drugs, prescription drugs cause more overdoses than heroin, meth, and cocaine combined. Prescription drugs such as depressants, opioids, and anti-depressants are responsible for up to 45 percent of overdose deaths each year.
In one year alone:

  • 2.3 million teens admitted to taking a stimulant prescription drug, such as Ritalin
  • 4.4 million teens admitted to taking prescription pain killers, such as Opioids
  • 2.2 million teens admitted to abusing an over the counter medication, such as cough syrup

Prescription medications are also responsible for more overdose-related deaths than illegal drugs. Depressants, opioids, and anti-depressants cause up to 45% of overdose deaths in the US each year. That’s more than the combined total of heroin, methamphetamine, and cocaine.

27.2 percent of high school students admit to having used illicit drugs. By their senior year, 21% of teens report having used marijuana, and 6% claim to use the drug daily.

Who Is Most At Risk Of Drug Abuse?

There is a reason many anti-drug and alcohol campaigns have been aimed at young people – namely teens and college students. Schools begin teaching children about the dangers of drugs as early as elementary school, with warnings of “just say no!” This is because young people are more likely to try drugs for the first time than adults. Over a quarter of teens have used drugs by the time they graduate high school. There are various reasons teens, and college students are more likely to try drugs:

  • They don’t understand the risks. Teens are not yet fully developed in the area of the brain responsible for recognizing and warning one of the consequences. There is a sense of feeling “invincible” among kids in this age group, and a feeling of “it won’t happen to me” among warnings of addiction and drug overdose.
  • They have more peer pressure. Teens often have a desire to fit in among their peers. This can lead to giving in to doing things they wouldn’t normally want to do. Those who fall in with a crowd involved with drug use are more likely to try drugs themselves.
  • They frequent locations where drug use is prevalent. College students especially are commonly found at parties or nightclubs. Drugs are often also found in these locations, giving new attendees ample opportunity to experiment.

How Is Drug Abuse Prevented?

Although drug abuse is still a major issue among young people, and adults, preventative methods have been successful at keeping some youth from using harmful substances. Preventative methods usually focus on:
Education – The more teens understand how dangerous and life-changing drug use is, the less likely they will be to use themselves. Many teens know that drugs are addictive, but they may not realize that some drugs are addictive even after only one use. They may know the signs to look for, or what constitutes drug abuse. Having this knowledge can help them make smarter choices, or seek help at the first sign of trouble, either for themselves or loved ones.
Entertainment – Some kids wind up using drugs because they’re on the streets after school, giving them prime opportunity to run into the wrong people at the wrong time. Recreational centers and programs for kids to partake in have had some impact in preventing teens from using drugs by offering them positive ways to expend energy and pass the time.
Mentorship – Because many teens use drugs as a form of self-medication to cover negative emotions stemming from poor self-esteem or a dysfunctional home environment, mentorship can help steer young people in a better direction. Mentors may take the time to tutor kids in school subjects, discuss life events, or just give them someone to hang out with to prevent loneliness.

Young people are not the only ones at risk of doing drugs. Those who have mental illnesses or stress-related disorders, such as veterans who have post-traumatic stress, are also at an increased risk of doing drugs.

Offering proper mental health access to these individuals is pertinent since their care, and a physician should closely monitor potential medication. Counselors and other mental health professionals are also often needed to help them manage stress and anxiety in healthy ways.

Combating Drug Abuse

Prevention is a wonderful tool when combating drug use, but for those who are already ensnared in addiction, additional treatment options are needed. While support groups and outpatient counseling are suitable options for some, most patients would greatly benefit from an inpatient drug abuse-related facility. Inpatient rehabilitation combines peer support, counseling, and medical care to ensure patients receive the help they need to combat addiction on all levels. Alternative care may also be available in some facilities, such as nutritional counseling, meditation, or art therapies.
Additional outpatient counseling and peer-based support groups are often recommended for those who graduate from an inpatient program.

  1. Frances, R. J., Miller, S.I., & Mack A. H. 2005. Clinical Textbook of Addictive Disorders, 3rd Edition. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse. 2015. DrugFacts: Nationwide Trends. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/nationwide-trends.
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. 2014. Prevention. https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/prevention.
  4. Substance Use/Misuse. 2015. Substance Abuse Prevention. Youth. http://youth.gov/youth-topics/substance-abuse.


Leave a comment