Drug Addiction Problem in America – Facts & Statistics

Drug addiction has been described as an epidemic that is consuming the country. The word “epidemic” is not far off the mark. Once considered nothing more than a bad habit, doctors and scientists now understand drug addiction as a disease that affects both the mind and the body.

  • Today there are over 27 million people addicted to drugs in the United States

Drug addiction is a chronic disease with strong genetic components. It requires active, lifelong participation by recovering addicts in some kind relapse prevention therapy. Once the disease of addiction develops in vulnerable individuals, it needs to be addressed and treated in the same way any chronic disease needs treatment. Just like diabetic or heart disease patients suffer worsening symptoms if they do not take medication and adhere to healthy lifestyle choices, addicts will also suffer the same consequences if they do not endeavor to avoid people and situations that trigger cravings and relapse.

The definition for drug addiction is:

  • Drug addiction is a chronic disease characterized by drug seeking and use that is compulsive, or difficult to control, despite harmful consequences

All drugs alter the brain chemistry;

  • It over-stimulates the reward circuit by flooding it with dopamine, creating the sensation of a high feeling. In the long term, this can permanently alter the way the brain works.The human brain requires specific chemicals within the body in order to function relatively normally.

Drug Addiction Facts

Including medical costs, drug addiction incurs a cost of roughly $700 billion a year in the United States. Approximately $500 billion of that cost is due to alcohol and smoking addiction, while about $200 billion is due to illegal drugs.

In terms of treatment, alcohol treatment represents close to 25% of all admissions to rehabilitation facilities. Marijuana and heroin are a close second and third at 17% and 14%, respectively. Nearly 1/3rd of all admissions are individuals in their 20s.

Finally, illicit drug use has stayed steady or is increasing in all segments of the population in the United States. As of 2013, roughly 24.6 million Americans aged 12 or older had used an illicit drug in the last month. This was 9.4 percent of the population and represented a roughly 13% increase since 2002.

Drug Addiction Factors

Substance addiction is characterized by the following:

  • The addict cannot abstain from using drugs or alcohol
  • The addict suffers severe impairment of behavioral and impulse control
  • The addict denies or is unable to recognize significant problems affecting their life
  • The addict presents dysfunction and/or distorted emotional responses


  • Since 2001, prescription drug overdose deaths have increased from 10,000 per year to 30,000 per year
  • Nearly 20,000 people died in 2014 from overdosing on prescription opioids (pain pills)
  • In 2001, 2000 people died from overdosing on heroin. In 2014, 12,000 heroin addicts died from overdosing on heroin
  • Cocaine overdose deaths spiked in 2006 at almost 8000 and has since decreased slightly to 5500 in 2014
  • Drug overdoses the number of men dying from a drug overdose is consistently higher than women

Effects of Drug Addiction

Every single drug produces different effects in the user, which makes it difficult to generalize effects across all drugs, though there are a few effects that are relatively common:

  • Most drug users will gain tolerance to the drug as they become physically dependent. As a result, drug users require greater quantities more frequently to obtain the same results they felt from small quantities early during use.
  • Most drugs alter the psyche of the user in some way that reduces inhibitions, increases willingness to take risks, decreases cognitive function, increases aggressiveness, or increases paranoia.
  • As a result, drug users are highly more likely to engage in criminal activity to obtain drugs after addiction than they were before.

Most drugs have dangerous physical and psychological side effects that can cause long term damage or death when used frequently in high doses. People addicted to the drug rarely show concern over these dangerous side effects

Heroin Epidemic

Since 2006, heroin use among young adults has more than doubled, partly due to rampant prescription opioid addiction and partly due to heroin’s easy availability and cheapness. Opium production in Mexico rose 50 percent in 2014 in response to America’s uncontrollable demand for for heroin and poppy cultivation globally reached its highest level in 80 years between 2012 and 2013.

Prescription Drug Addiction

One of the reasons thought to have fueled the heroin epidemic is the inability for millions of prescription drug addicts in the U.S. to legally access prescription painkillers after their doctors stopped writing prescriptions for them. In fact, when Florida saw spikes in prescription drug abuse a few years ago, they decided to crackdown on “pill mills” operating in Florida.

Although deaths from prescription drug abuse in Florida have declined since closing down hundreds of pill mills, deaths from heroin increased, primarily because heroin is incredibly cheap in Florida and throughout the U.S. Mexican drug lords are now flooding the area with heroin after discovering how the pill crackdown is driving addicts to find other drugs to satisfy their addiction.

  • According to the CDC, prescription drug abuse has been officially declared an epidemic in the U.S.


Marijuana is the most abused drug in the world and remains popular because it is easy to grow, cheap to buy and readily available. Marijuana contains a compound called THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) that gives users a sense of euphoria, heightened awareness and well-being.

Because drug addicts often experiment with marijuana before using harder drugs, marijuana is called the “gateway drug”. A 2015 study involving over 6000 participants found “a large proportion of individuals who use cannabis go on to use other illegal drugs”.


Crystal meth’s street names–“crank”, “speed” and “ice”–stem from its strong stimulant properties. Using meth one time may cause addiction because its effect on the brain is so immediate and intense. Injected or smoked, meth keeps the user high for several hours. Euphoria, hyper-vigilance, talkativeness, aggression and agitation are just a few of the dangerous side effects of taking meth.

Meth production and use is highest in rural areas of several Midwestern states. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency reports seizing over 1400 meth labs in Indiana, nearly 1000 meth-making sites in Missouri, 936 meth labs in Ohio and 960 meth labs in Tennessee between 2004 and 2014. However, due to the these states offering hundreds of miles of sparsely populated, densely wooded areas to meth producers an addicts, local law enforcement suspects twice as many meth labs exist that will never be found.

Drug Addiction Treatment

There are lots of treatment options available, from going cold turkey to enrolling in a medically assisted detoxification program. In general, when it comes to drug addiction treatment, the more support a patient gets the better. Medically supported rehabilitation centers average at about a 30% success rate, counting success as completion of the program without relapse for at least a year. Comparatively, 12-step programs only see about a 10% success rate and going cold turkey only has about a 5% success rate.

The numbers are consistent across all types of drugs, both legal and illegal. Patients that want to recover and are given frequent support both during detoxification and while they are attempting to return to a normal life, are significantly more likely to succeed than those that don’t want to recover or don’t have a strong support network.

Drug Addiction Video CNN News

For more drug abuse and addiction resources, visit the NIDA website.

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