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Addiction and Substance Use at a Glance: Worldwide Statistics

Addiction, also known as substance use disorder, is a complex brain disease that affects millions of people across the globe. To illustrate the severity of the problem, as well as its many forms, here are some statistics from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s World Drug Report of 2019:

  • There are about 35 million people around the world who suffer from drug use disorders and who are in need of treatment.
  • There are also up to 53 million users of opioids around the globe. Opioids are responsible for about two thirds of the 585,000 deaths from drug use that were recorded in 2017.
  • The same year, 11 million people were cited to have injected drugs into their bodies. Of those 11 million, 5.6 million now live with Hepatitis C, and 1.4 million live with HIV.
  • Compared to the past decade, there are now more people using opioids in the continents of North America, Europe, Africa, and Asia. There are also more cannabis users than there were ten years ago in North and South America, as well as in Asia.
  • The illicit global manufacturing of cocaine reached as many as 1,976 tons in 2017 alone.
  • The most widely consumed drug around the world is cannabis, with an estimated 188 million users.

The Problem of Addiction in the United States of America: Some Important Findings

Addiction is also a rampant problem in the United States. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 20.3 million Americans aged 12 and older suffered from substance abuse disorder. The survey’s basis is the definition of substance use disorder as provided by the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed. (DSM-IV).  The numbers can be found below, along with some important notes about how substance abuse disorder is measured.

Alcohol Addiction Statistics in the US

SAMHSA’s definition for alcohol use disorder is based on whether the person meets DSM-IV’s criteria of either alcohol dependence or alcohol abuse. A person may have alcohol use disorder if they have used alcohol for 6 or more days within a 12-month period, and they meet three or more of the following dependence criteria:

  1. The person spends a lot of time engaging in activities that are related to the use of alcohol.
  2. The person consumes alcohol in greater quantities, for a longer period, than originally intended.
  3. The person has already developed a tolerance to alcohol.
  4. The person’s previous attempts to cut down on their alcohol use have failed.
  5. The person continues to use alcohol despite the physical or emotional health-related problems that alcohol causes.
  6. The person’s involvement in other activities, such as sports or leisure activities, has decreased because of their alcohol use.
  7. The person has experienced withdrawal symptoms when attempting to cut down on their alcohol use.

Even if they do not meet the criteria for alcohol dependence, a person can still be classified as having alcohol use disorder if they have reported one or more of the following instances of alcohol abuse:

  1. The person has trouble at school, work, or at home because of their use of alcohol.
  2. The person’s use of alcohol has led them to do something that is physically dangerous.
  3. The person has had repeated brushes with the law because of their use of alcohol.
  4. The person continues to use alcohol despite recurring problems with their family members or friends.

Given the following criteria, SAMHSA uncovered these facts about alcohol use disorder in the United States:

  • An estimated 14.8 million Americans aged 12 and older, or 5.4% of the population, struggled with alcohol use disorder in 2018.
  • More than 400,000 of those with alcohol use disorder were adolescents aged 12–17 years old.
  • The biggest subgroup of those with alcohol use disorder were adults aged 26 and above.

Drug Addiction Statistics in the US

SAMHSA’s indicators for drug use disorder are similar to those of alcohol use disorder listed above. Someone is defined to have illicit drug use disorder if they meet either the dependence or abuse criteria for one or more of the following drugs:

  • Marijuana
  • Heroin
  • Cocaine
  • Hallucinogens
  • Inhalants
  • Methamphetamine
  • Prescription psychotherapeutic drugs such as stimulants, sedatives, and opioid painkillers

The seven dependence criteria for illicit drug use disorder for most drugs are the following:

  1. The person spends a lot of time involved in activities that are related to the use of drugs.
  2. The person uses the drug in greater quantities than originally intended, e.g. as prescribed by their medical doctor.
  3. The person has already developed a tolerance to the drug.
  4. The person’s previous attempts to cut down on their illicit drug use have failed.
  5. The person continues to use drugs despite their obvious physical and emotional detriments.
  6. The person spends less time on other activities, like their hobbies, because of drug use.
  7. The person has experienced withdrawal symptoms when attempting to cut down on their illicit drug use.

It must be noted that for some drugs, the seventh criterion pertaining to withdrawal symptoms may not apply. For substances like these, if a person meets three or more of the first six criteria, they may have illicit drug use disorder.

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Like with alcohol use disorder, a person may still be classified as having illicit drug use disorder if they’ve reported one or more of the following instances of drug abuse:

  1. The person is having a difficult time at work, school, or in their home life because of their use of drugs.
  2. The person’s use of illicit drugs has led them to physically dangerous situations.
  3. The person has experienced repeated troubles with the law because of their illicit drug use.
  4. The person still continues to use drugs despite problems with their friends or family.

Based on these criteria, SAMHSA discovered the following patterns of illicit drug use in the United States:

  • 1 million Americans aged 12 or older suffered from at least 1 illicit drug use disorder.
  • Alarmingly, about 681,000 of these were adolescents aged 12–17 years old.
  • Like with alcohol abuse disorder, the lion’s share of this population—4.8 million—involved adults aged 26 and up.
  • The most common illicit drug use disorders were for marijuana (4.4 million users) and prescription pain relievers (1.7 million).

The Consequences: Statistics on Deaths and Economic Burdens Due to Alcohol and Drug Abuse

The statistics don’t stop at recorded cases of drug and alcohol abuse, however. Americans also need to pay attention to the damaging consequences of substance use disorder. They include the following.

  • The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports that 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes each year. Alcohol ranks third only to tobacco and poor diet as one of the leading preventable causes of death in America.
  • In 2014, the World Health Organization reported that, aside from alcohol dependence, alcohol also contributed to diseases like liver cirrhosis and cancer. Alcohol was also attributed to various injuries resulting from accidents.
  • As per the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), more than 67,300 Americans died from drug overdose in 2018 alone. Of these deaths, 31,335 were because of synthetic narcotics like fentanyl.
  • NIDA’s most recent report also pegged the cost of drug, alcohol, and tobacco abuse in the United States to be at least $740 billion a year. This includes the costs to the US healthcare and justice systems, as well as in lost productivity.

Past the Numbers: Notes on Addiction Treatment and Rehabilitation Services in the US

Although there is extensive data for occurrences of substance use disorder, the numbers aren’t as readily available for the best response to it: addiction treatment. In the US, it is hard to track the success rates of rehabilitation programs simply because there is no one standard metric for rehabilitation itself. Factors like the duration of one’s stay in a rehab facility, or one’s involvement in a 12-step self-help group (i.e. Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous), do matter. But they are not the be-all, end-all indicators for success. Moreover, some metrics for success discount the efforts of those who have completed addiction treatment, but have relapsed along the way. Suffice to say, addiction is a complex problem to grasp—and rehabilitation efforts aren’t as simple to achieve, either.

The good news is, both research and evidence-based treatment for addiction have leveled up in the past decades. Rehabilitation centers across America have come to see the quality of their care and accessibility of their services as crucial to patients’ healing from substance use disorder. There are also information services, like Better Addiction Care, that offer a comprehensive third-party information service for people who are dealing with addiction or are seeking information on addiction treatment.

A better understanding of the phenomenon of addiction, as well as thorough care and greater involvement from the public, are what’s needed to turn the numbers around. Through Better Addiction Care, you can learn what you can about substance use disorder and refer someone in need. This will bring them closer to the care they deserve—and increase the population of those working towards lasting recovery.

 

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