Drug Use Statistics

Drug Use Statistics

Across the United States, millions of people turn to illicit drugs. Drug use has no common defining factor – not income, education, age, or ethnicity. It is an epidemic of incredible proportions, whether we’re talking about the opioid crisis or the rising use of non-opioid drugs. To help highlight the growing problem of drug abuse in the nation, we must look at critical drug use statistics in America. Below, we’ve broken down substance abuse statistics to help make this critical topic more easily understandable.

Drug Addiction Statistics

The drug use statistics below are provided by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and tell a startling story – drug abuse is prevalent across virtually all population sectors.

 Adolescents/Children (ages 12-17)

The statistics of teenage drug use are some of the most startling. According to the CDC, as of 2018:

  • 2.1% of those aged 12-13 have used illicit drugs.
  • 6.7% of those aged 14-15 have used illicit drugs.
  • 14.8% of those aged 16-17 have used illicit drugs.

Those numbers change dramatically when factored for specific drugs. For instance:

  • .9% of those aged 12-13 have tried marijuana, while .4% have misused psychotherapeutic drugs. 1% have used alcohol.
  • 5.1% of those aged 14-15 have tried marijuana, and 1% have misused psychotherapeutic drugs. 7.4% have used alcohol.
  • 13.5% of those aged 16-17 have tried marijuana, and 2.3% have misused psychotherapeutic drugs. 17.9% have used alcohol.

Young Adults (ages 18-25)

Young adults make up one of the fastest-growing drug use segments. According to the CDC, 17.3% have tried some form of illicit drug. 22.1% have tried marijuana, and 3.7% of misused psychotherapeutic drugs. In addition, 55.1% have used alcohol.

Adults (ages 26-34)

Adults are slightly less likely to use illicit drugs but more likely to use alcohol. According to the CDC, 18.9% have used some illicit drug, while 16.7% have used marijuana. In addition, 3.2% had misused psychotherapeutic drugs. In comparison, 63.3% had used alcohol.

Older Adults (ages 35+)

Adults 35 and up are much less likely to have used illicit drugs and less likely to use marijuana, psychotherapeutic drugs, or alcohol. As of 2018, the CDC reports that 31.% of adults in this age range had tried an illicit drug, and just 6.7% had used marijuana. In addition, 1.5% reported misusing psychotherapeutic drugs. 53.5% of this age group has used alcohol.

Elderly Adults (65+)

Elderly adults are much less likely to try illicit drugs and rarely use marijuana unless recommended by a doctor. However, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, over 1 million American adults aged 65 and over struggle with a substance abuse disorder (SUD) as of 2018. The number of senior adults admitted to the hospital for substance abuse-related situations also grew significantly from 2000 to 2012, going from just 3.4% of cases to 7% of cases.

Elderly adults are also at an increased risk of developing a substance abuse disorder simply because of the number of prescriptions they regularly take, including those to help combat chronic pain. According to one study, out of 3,000 seniors surveyed, more than 80% used at least one prescription medication daily. Almost 50% used over five prescription medications daily. It should also be noted that between 1995 and 2010, prescriptions of opioid pain medications for seniors increased ninefold.

For elderly adults, alcohol use is very high. For example, 65% of senior adults reported high-risk drinking, including binge drinking, within the past year. In addition, from 2001 to 2013, there has been a 107% increase in alcohol use disorders among those 65 and older.

Men vs. Women

Drug use differs significantly between men and women.

  • 14% of men have tried some illicit drug, 12.3% have used marijuana, and 2.1% have misused psychotherapeutic drugs. 54.5% have used alcohol.
  • 9.5% of women have tried some illicit drug, 8% have used marijuana, and 1.9% have misused psychotherapeutic drugs. 47.9% have used alcohol.


The disparity across the US becomes even starker when you consider drug use statistics by race.

  • 12% of white people have used an illicit drug of some type, 10.3% have used marijuana, and 2.3% have misused psychotherapeutic drugs. 56.7% have used alcohol.
  • 13.7% of Black/African Americans have used an illicit drug, 12.2% have used marijuana, and 1.6% have misused psychotherapeutic drugs. 43% have used alcohol.
  • 17.4% of Native Americans have used an illicit drug, 14.6% have used marijuana, and 2.3% have misused psychotherapeutic drugs. 35.9% have used alcohol.
  • 4.4% of Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders have used an illicit drug, 7.7% have used marijuana, and 1.7% have misused psychotherapeutic drugs. 35.4% have used alcohol.
  • 6.7% of Asian Americans have used an illicit drug, 5.6% have used marijuana, and 1.1% have misused psychotherapeutic drugs. 39.3% have used alcohol.
  • 15.5% of mixed-race Americans have used an illicit drug, 16.6% have used marijuana, and 2.3% have misused psychotherapeutic drugs. 46% have used alcohol.
  • 9.7% of Hispanic/Latino Americans have used an illicit drug, 8.5% have used marijuana, and 1.5% have misused psychotherapeutic drugs. 41.7% have used alcohol.


US servicemembers suffer from drug use and addiction, both while on active duty and after being discharged from the military.

  • As of 2015, just under 1% of active-duty servicemembers used illicit drugs. Over 4% reported misusing prescription drugs, though. 
  • As of 2015, many veterans reported using illicit drugs. For example, 3.5% used marijuana, and 1.7% used a different illicit drug, including heroin and cocaine. Additionally, 24% of veterans report using opioid pain relievers, and while additional statistics are hard to find, the opioid overdose rate for veterans reached 21% in 2016.
  • 5.4% of active-duty servicemembers were heavy drinkers in 2015, which is lower than in 2014. However, binge drinking increased dramatically, with 30% of service members reporting binging. More than one in three servicemembers met the criteria for alcohol use disorder (AUD). Almost 57% of veterans reported using alcohol, and 7.5% of those reported heavy alcohol usage. 


It is difficult to quantify income as a determinant of addiction because many other factors affect the amount an individual earns. Those include education and employment status/opportunities, as well as race and gender to lesser extents. However, with that being said, there is a correlation between those who have a lower income and addition.

Generally speaking, those with lower incomes are more likely to suffer from substance abuse disorders. However, note that this also correlates with education, as substance abuse tends to be higher in those with only a high school education than those who graduated from college.

As noted by the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health:

  • 7.3% of those who graduated from college suffered from substance abuse/dependence.
  • 8.3% of those who graduated from high school suffered from substance abuse/dependence.
  • 10.2% of those who did not graduate from high school suffered from substance abuse/dependence.
  • 15.7% of unemployed adults suffered from substance abuse/dependence.
  • 8.9% of employed adults suffering from substance abuse/dependence.
  • 10.9% of those employed part-time suffered from substance abuse/dependence.

Note that these figures have only increased since that survey. They also include illicit drugs, alcohol, and prescription drugs.

Drug Overdose Statistics

As the rate of drug use climbs, so does the rate of overdose and death, despite the increasing use of Narcan and similar lifesaving treatments by many law enforcement agencies and first responders. 

  • There were 67,367 drug overdose deaths in the US in 2018.
  • There are 20.6 drug overdose deaths in the US per 100,000 people.
  • 14.3 drug overdose deaths per 100,000 people involve an opioid.
  • 9.6 drug overdose deaths per 100,000 people involve a synthetic opioid other than methadone. 
  • 4.6 drug overdose deaths per 100,000 people involve heroin.
  • 3.8 drug overdose deaths per 100,000 people involve natural or semisynthetic opioids. 

Addiction Treatment Statistics

While millions of Americans struggle with addiction, many can recover through addiction treatment. According to the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP):

  • 23.5 million adult Americans are in recovery from addiction.
  • Only 11.2% receive critical help from a specialized treatment facility.

Meth Use Statistics

Meth (methamphetamine) is one of the most widespread addictions in the United States, affecting millions yearly. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, part of the National Institutes of Health:

  • 1.6 million people in the US reported using meth in 2017.
  • As of 2017, almost 1 million people aged 12 or older had a meth use disorder.
  • As of 2018, .5% of 8th, 10th, and 12th graders had used meth.
  • Over 70% of law enforcement officials in the Pacific and West Central regions of the US report that meth is the most significant drug threat in their area.
  • As of 2017, 15% of all drug overdose deaths were related to meth use.

Cocaine Use Statistics

Cocaine use has fallen in the United States but remains a serious threat to public health. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse:

  • Adults between 18 and 25 have the highest incidence of cocaine use.
  • 1.4% of young adults have reported cocaine use.
  • In 2014, there were 1.5 million current cocaine users in the United States.
  • The incidence of cocaine use in the US has remained stable since about 2009, down from a high in the 1990s and early 2000s.
  • In 2014, over 900,000 Americans struggled with cocaine dependency.

Heroin Use Statistics

Heroin use in the United States is rarer than other drugs, but it grows rapidly for several different reasons. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse:

  • 948,000 Americans reported using heroin in 2016.
  • Young adults aged 18 to 25 are the most likely to use heroin.
  • 170,000 people used heroin for the first time in 2016, up from 90,000 in 2006.
  • 626,000 people were dependent on heroin in 2016.
  • Heroin use is on the rise in urban, suburban, and rural areas.

Opioids Statistics

Opioids are among the most addictive drugs and can be found in both prescription and illicit forms. The opioid crisis affects people from all walks of life and from the East Coast to the West Coast. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse:

  • Up to 29% of patients prescribed opioid medications ultimately misuse them.
  • Between 8% and 12% of patients prescribed opioids for pain management ultimately become dependent on them.
  • Up to 6% of those who misuse opioids use heroin as a cheaper, more effective alternative.
  • Almost 50,000 people in the US died from opioid overdoses in 2019 alone.

Prescription Drug Statistics

In addition to the prescription opioids discussed above, prescribed CNS depressants and stimulants are also abused. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse:

  • 18 million people misused prescription drugs in 2017 alone.
  • 2 million people misused them for the first time that year.
  • More than 1 million people misused prescribed stimulants for the first time that year.
  • More than 1.5 million people misused tranquilizers for the first time in 2017.
  • Over 271,000 misused sedatives for the first time that year. 
  • 14.4% of young adults aged 18 to 25 misused prescription drugs in 2019.
  • 4.9% of youth between 12 and 17 misused prescription drugs in 2019.

Alcohol Statistics

Alcohol is one of the most commonly used and abused substances in the United States. It affects Americans across all age groups, ethnicities, and income levels. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism:

  • 85.6% of those over 18 reported drinking at some point in their lifetime. Almost 70% reported drinking within the year (2019) and nearly 55% within the same month.
  • 25.8% of those 18 or older reported binge drinking within the past month (2019).
  • 6.3% of those 18 or older reported drinking heavily within the past month (2019).
  • 14.5 million people aged 12 or older in the US suffer from alcohol use disorder (AUD).
  • 414,000 people between the ages of 12 and 17 struggle with AUD in the United States.
  • On average, the US sees 210,000 alcohol-related emergency room visits annually.
  • Over 95,000 people die from alcohol-related causes every year in the US.
  • Over 10,000 people died in alcohol-impaired auto accidents in the US in 2019 alone.

Get Help With Drug Addiction at North Star Treatment Services

From opioids to alcohol, drug use destroys lives and rips families apart. It also damages physical, mental, and emotional health. Unfortunately, there is no single segment of American society that is immune to substance abuse, either. It is present at all levels in various forms. Despite that, one thing remains true: there is hope and help.

If you are struggling with drug abuse or alcohol dependency, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. You don’t have to live at the mercy of addiction. At North Star Treatment Services, we offer compassionate care and the professional assistance you need to move forward with your life. It’s time for a change. Call North Star today.


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