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Drug Use Statistics

The number of people who enter a substance abuse rehab program every year is just a tiny fraction of those who use and abuse drugs and alcohol daily. Nearly 50% of the total population in the United States aged 12 and older have used illicit drugs at least once in their lives.

However, drug abuse isn’t just a U.S. problem, as drug abuse impacts people worldwide. In 2017, illicit drug abuse was the cause of death for 750,000 people across the globe.

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General Drug Use and Abuse Statistics

Drug abuse is a serious problem in the United States. A reported 114 Americans die daily due to a drug overdose, while another 6,748 are treated in emergency departments (ED) daily for abusing drugs.

It is also an expensive problem. In 2020 the federal budget for drug control exceeded $30 billion.

Below are some additional statistics about drug abuse in the U.S.:

  • In 2020, over 37 million Americans 12 and older were illegal drug users, and roughly 25% of those illicit drug users have a substance use disorder.
  • According to a 2020 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) study, roughly 17 million Americans 18 and older have both a substance use disorder and a mental illness.
  • According to a recent study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), marijuana and hallucinogen use by young adults between the ages of 19 and 30 reached an all-time high in 2021.
  • According to the Department of Health and Human Services, there are over 14,000 substance abuse treatment facilities in the U.S., with over 1 million Americans currently receiving medication-assisted treatment.

Statistics by Types of Drugs Abused

The United States is currently dealing with an opioid crisis so severe that it has been declared a public health emergency. In addition, general drug use continues to be a significant problem.

A 2020 study found that nearly 60% of all people in the U.S. 12 and older used illegal or misused prescription drugs within the last year.

In addition to opioids, some of the other substances that make up this number include:

General Narcotics Use Statistics

Narcotics is an umbrella term used to describe various opioids. A narcotic can include opium, derivatives of opium, or synthetic forms of opium created in labs and illegal facilities.

Some commonly abused narcotics include:

Below are some facts and statistics as it pertains to the use and abuse of narcotics, both medically and recreationally:

  • Fentanyl is one of the most dangerous narcotics on the market today and is also one of the most abused.
  • Fentanyl is anywhere from 50 to 300 times more potent than morphine.
  • In 2018, 808,000 people reported using heroin.
  • From 2013 to 2015, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) confiscated 239 kilograms of illegal fentanyl.
  • 5% of all urine samples related to primary care, pain management, and substance abuse test positive for fentanyl.
  • Over 9 million Americans 12 and older have misused opioids at least once in the past year.
  • Nearly 3 million Americans 12 and older qualify as having an opioid use disorder.
  • Hydrocodone is the most popular prescription opioid taken in the U.S.
  • In 11% of counties in the U.S., the number of opioid prescriptions written equals the number of residents of those counties (though not every person has a prescription).
  • In 2018, over half of Americans who obtained pain meds did so illegally from a friend or relative.
  • The most common substance reported to poison control centers is prescription opioids.

Stimulant Use Statistics

Stimulants can be obtained both legally with a doctor’s prescription and illegally. Common stimulants, used both legally and/or illegally, include:

Below are some statistics about stimulant use and abuse:

  • In 2018, roughly 1.8 million people 12 and older in the U.S. reported using meth in the past year.
  • During that same period, over 5 million people reported cocaine use within the past year.
  • Over 600,000 teens between 12 and 17 have admitted to taking Adderall recreationally at least once.
  • Adderall is widely considered to be the most popular stimulant for self-medication.
  • Ritalin is used by nearly 25% of all prescription stimulant abusers.
  • 51% of all stimulant abusers are above the age of 26.
  • Nearly 5 million people 12 and older have reported misusing a prescription stimulant in the past 12 months.
  • Nearly 20% of all stimulant abusers say they do it to help with academic performance.
  • 4.1% of stimulant abusers use them for weight loss purposes.
  • Almost 58 million people use some form of tobacco or nicotine products.

Depressants Abuse Statistics

Depressants are often prescribed to treat sleep problems, anxiety, muscle spasms, and seizures. Common examples of depressants include:

Below are some facts about depressant use and abuse:

  • Rohypnol is a depressant commonly used for drug victims of sexual assault.
  • In 2018, 5.7 million people in the U.S. reported misusing prescription tranquilizers.
  • In that same year, 1 million people reported abusing prescription sedatives.
  • Almost 6 million people over the age of 12 abuse sedatives every year.
  • Over 40% of tranquilizer abusers report doing so to relieve tension.
  • 6.7% of tranquilizer users do so experimentally.
  • Over 85% of people 18 and older have reported drinking alcohol at some point.
  • A 2020 study showed that 24% of people 18 and older had reported binge drinking in the past 30 days.

Hallucinogens Use Statistics

Hallucinogens are mind-altering substances that occur naturally and can be made synthetically. Common hallucinogens include:

Below are some statistics about hallucinogen use and abuse:

  • LSD is one of the most dangerous hallucinogens.
  • There are more than 1 million regular hallucinogen users in the U.S.
  • Roughly 20 million Americans have taken LSD at least once.
  • In 2020, approximately 7 million people 12 and older reported using hallucinogens in the past 12 months.

Marijuana Use Statistics

While still illegal at the federal level, marijuana is legal for medical use in 39 states and Washington, DC. In 19 of those states and Washington, DC, marijuana is also recreationally legal. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has classified marijuana as a hallucinogen under the Controlled Substances Act, though it is generally considered its own drug category.

Below are some statistics about marijuana use in the United States:

  • In 2018, the recreational legal cannabis industry reported an estimated sales total of around $14 billion.
  • In 2020, an estimated 47 million Americans 18 and older had used marijuana at least once in the past year.
  • 30% of all marijuana users have some form of a marijuana use disorder.
  • In 2019, 43% of all college students reported marijuana use.
  • In states where marijuana is legal, emergency department (ED) visits related to marijuana increased by 54% in 2018.
  • Around half of all Americans have reported using marijuana at least once in their lives.
  • There are currently 50.6% more marijuana users than tobacco smokers in the U.S.
  • Over 60% of Americans consider weed less harmful than alcohol, tobacco, and prescription painkillers.
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U.S. Drug Use and Abuse by Ethnicity

How a person is raised can play a significant role in their relationship with drugs and alcohol. Everything from their race to the environment they grew up in can affect how they perceive and use substances of abuse.

Caucasian

  • In 2018, 7.7% of all Caucasians 12 and older suffered from a substance abuse issue.
  • 20.2% of all Caucasians 12 and older have reported using illicit drugs, while 67% have reported drinking alcohol.

Black

  • In 2018, nearly 7% of all African Americans 12 and up suffered from substance abuse or addiction.
  • 20.8% of all African Americans 12 and up have reported using an illicit substance, while nearly 60% have reported drinking alcohol.

Hispanic

  • In 2018, 7.1% of all Hispanics 12 and older suffered from an alcohol or drug use disorder.
  • Nearly 60% of all Hispanics 12 and older have reported drinking alcohol, while 17.1% have reported using an illicit substance.

Asian

  • In 2018, 4.8% of all Asian Americans 12 and up suffered from substance abuse or addiction.
  • 53.6% of all Asian Americans 12 and older have reported drinking alcohol, while 11.2% have reported illicit drug use.

Native American

  • In 2018, 10.1% of Native Americans 12 and older suffered from addiction, more than any other ethnicity
  • 55% of all Native Americans 12 and up have reported using alcohol, while 18.5% have reported using an illicit substance
  • Opioid use is most prevalent among the Native American and Alaska Native demographic

Drug Use and Abuse by Age Group

Another factor in drug and alcohol abuse is a person’s age. People who experiment with drugs and alcohol at a young age are more likely to develop a substance abuse problem when they get older. That’s mainly because the brain isn’t fully developed until 25.

Adolescents (12-17)

  • 70% of people who try an illegal substance before age 13 develop a substance abuse problem within the next seven years.
  • 47% of all adolescents have used an illicit drug at least one time by the time they graduate high school
  • Approximately 2 million adolescents between 12 and 17 reported using drugs in the past month.
  • 21.3% of all 8th graders in the U.S. have tried an illicit substance at least once.
  • Alcohol is the most commonly abused substance by adolescents, with 1.19 million having reported binge drinking over the past month.
  • High school students that receive a medical prescription for opioids are 33% more likely to continue using and misusing them after the prescription expires.
  • Drug abuse among adolescents is most prevalent in Montana.
  • 1.7% of young people between the ages of 12 and 17 have an Alcohol Use Disorder.

Young Adults (Age 18-25)

  • Drug abuse is the highest in young adults at 39%.
  • In 2017, approximately 1 in 7 Americans between 18 and 25 had a substance abuse problem.
  • Heroin use in Americans between 18-25 has more than doubled in the past decade.
  • Over 50% of all Americans between 18 and 25 have reportedly used an illicit substance at least once.
  • In 2018, marijuana was the most commonly used drug, with nearly 35% of the population having used it in the past year.
  • 14.4% of adults 18-25 abuse prescription drugs each year.

Adults (Age 26+)

  • In 2017, approximately 6.5% of all Americans 26 and up struggled with substance abuse.
  • The most popular drug in 2018 among adults over 26 was marijuana, with 13.3% of the population having reported using cannabis that year.
  • In 2017, approximately 5% of Americans over 26 had an alcohol problem.
  • 83.9% of all excessive alcohol use-related deaths involve adults over 35.
  • 51% of all stimulant abusers are over 26 years old.

Elderly Adults (Age 65+)

  • Over 75% of all Americans over the age of 65 use at least one prescription medication daily.
  • Over 50% take multiple medications or supplements daily.
  • In 2017, more than 1 million Americans 65 and older reported substance abuse problems.

Drug Use and Abuse By Sex

Biologically, men and women are different. As a result, they react differently to various environmental factors, including drugs and alcohol.

Drug Abuse in Men

  • Historically, men have been more likely to abuse illicit substances than women.
  • 22% of all American males used illegal or misused prescription drugs in the past year.
  • Men are 3 times more likely to die due to alcohol abuse than women.
  • Men are 22.9% more likely to misuse prescription medications.

Drug Abuse in Women

  • 17% of all American women used illegal or misused prescription drugs in the past year.
  • Women are 11% more likely to be prescribed medication than men.
  • Women are more likely than men to use stimulants as study aids or to increase alertness.
  • Between 2002 and 2013, heroin use amongst females went up 100%.
  • Only 20% of all people in substance abuse treatment programs are women.
  • 39% of women in the U.S. struggle with illegal drugs.
  • 32.1 million women in the U.S. have either a mental health or substance use disorder.
  • In 2014, four times as many babies were born with neonatal abstinence syndrome than in 1999.
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Drug Use and Abuse During the COVID-19 Pandemic

It’s no secret that COVID-19 uprooted and continues to impact our lives. Quarantine protocols forced many people into isolation and were likely a major reason drug and alcohol abuse increased sharply.

Below are some facts and figures as it pertains to drug and alcohol abuse during the pandemic:

  • Online liquor sales rose over 250% year-over-year in the first three weeks of March 2020.
  • In-person liquor store sales rose 54% in that same 3-week period.
  • According to a Johns Hopkins survey, 60% of participants reported increased alcohol consumption after March 1, 2020.
  • 45.7% of people surveyed reported drinking more due to stress, while 30% said it was out of boredom.
  • In March 2020 in Iran, 180 people died from consuming homemade alcohol due to a rumor that it would help protect them from COVID-19.
  • During the fifth week of March 2020, when the mass lockdowns started happening, fentanyl-related overdose deaths rose by 200%.

Drug Use and Abuse Around the World

The substance abuse issues and the following “war on drugs” plaguing the United States are hardly unique to us and our country. Many other areas worldwide are dealing with similar drug and alcohol issues.

United States

  • According to a 2020 study, 13.5% of all Americans 12 and older used drugs in the past 30 days.
  • Approximately 140 Americans 12 and older drink alcohol.
  • Around 21% of the Americana population 12 and up have used illegal drugs or misused prescription drugs in the past 12 months.

Canada

A 2019 Canadian Alcohol and Drug Survey (CADS) reports the following data:

  • Roughly 4% of the Canadian population used at least one illegal drug.
  • 21% reported using weed in the past 12 months.
  • Cocaine accounted for approximately half of all illegal drug use in Canada.
  • Roughly 75% of all Canadians reported drinking alcohol.
  • 14% of Canadians reported smoking cigarettes.
  • A higher percentage of men used alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco than women.

Mexico

  • 5.2 million people have used illicit substances at least once.
  • Males had a higher rate of drug use than females.
  • Marijuana is the most popular substance of abuse amongst both men and women.
  • 90% of the cocaine sold in the US is brought in through Mexico from Colombia.
  • Mexican drug trafficking organizations are the largest manufacturer and suppliers of meth in the U.S.

Europe

  • Approximately 80 million people throughout the European Union (EU) between 15 and 64 have used an illicit substance at least once.
  • The most commonly-tried drug in the EU is marijuana (approx. 78 million).
  • The EU’s second most widely used drug is cocaine (approx. 14 million).
  • As of 2018, there were 78 official drug consumption facilities throughout the EU.
  • Approximately 0.4% of the EU population, or around 1.3 million people, used high-risk opioids in 2018.

Russia

  • HIV infection as a result of drug injection is particularly prevalent in Russia.
  • Those who use drugs in Russia are one of the country’s most marginalized and stigmatized populations.
  • Roughly 2% of all Russians convicted on drug charges choose to undergo treatment.
  • In 2018, the number of people in Russia that used drugs ranged from 7.3-8.5 million.
  • In 2016, of the 637,482 people incarcerated, approximately 63% were jailed for drug offenses.

South America

  • Argentina and Uruguay have the highest cocaine rate in the region, with 1.6% of the population using the drug.
  • Throughout South America, an average of 5% of the population uses cannabis regularly.
  • Argentina has the highest drug-related death rate among South American countries.

Asia

  • In 2010, 86% of all opium was produced in Asia.
  • Afghanistan is the world’s largest producer of opium and the 2nd largest producer of cannabis resin.
  • Opioids are the most commonly used and abused illicit substance throughout Asia.
  • Heroin is the most commonly used drug in Vietnam.
  • China, Pakistan, Iran, and India make up most of the heroin use in Asia.

Africa

  • The most commonly found substance of abuse in Africa is marijuana.
  • In recent years, cocaine and heroin trafficking, plus abuse of these drugs, have become more prevalent in the region.
  • The UN estimates that there are 28 million drug users in Africa.
  • While amphetamines mostly remain a problem throughout the Middle East, their use in Africa is increasing.

Australia & New Zealand

  • From 2010 to 2013, the percentage of people who misused prescription drugs in Australia rose from 4.2% to 4.7%.
  • More than 3 million people in Australia use illicit drugs every year.
  • In 2019, the most commonly used drug in Australia was cannabis.
  • In 2019, an estimated 900,000 people 14 and up in Australia used a pharmaceutical drug for recreational purposes.
  • Nearly half of the adult population in New Zealand has reported using recreational drugs at least one time.
  • According to a New Zealand 2020/2021 Health Survey, 1 in 5 adults drinks in a way that could pose a health risk.
  • Approximately 50,000 people in New Zealand receive support for drug or alcohol abuse each year.
  • In 2020, the social cost of drug-related harm in New Zealand was estimated to be around $810 million.

Drug Overdose Statistics

According to the NIDA, over 90,000 people in the U.S. died from a drug-involved overdose in 2020. Below are some additional statistics about drug overdose:

  • Of the over 90,000 people that died of an overdose, over 50,000 died of a synthetic opioid overdose.
  • In January 2021, drug overdose deaths exceeded homicides by over 300%.
  • West Virginia has more drug overdose deaths per capita than any other state in the U.S.
  • From 2019 to 2020, preventable drug overdose deaths in the U.S. increased by 34%.
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Need Help with a Drug Problem?

While millions of people use drugs and alcohol in the U.S. daily, only a fraction get the help they need for substance abuse and addiction.

Call the SAMHSA helpline at 1-800-662-4357 or visit their online program locator to find addiction treatment facilities in your area. You can also speak to your doctor or healthcare provider about treatment options that would be right for you or your loved one.

Frequently Asked Questions About Drug Use

What percent of the US abuses drugs?

According to a 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health survey, approximately 14% of the American population over age 12 has a substance abuse problem.

What are the statistics for drug use in the US?

In 2020, 37.3 million Americans over 12 were illegal drug users. Half of the U.S. population 12 and older have used an illicit substance at least once in their lives.

What country has the biggest drug problem?

Iran has the highest drug addiction rates in the world. Out of the 81 million people living in Iran, an estimated 2 to 3 million are addicts.

Where are most illegal drugs manufactured?

Afghanistan is the world’s largest producer of heroin and opium, which comes from the poppy plant, while Colombia is the largest producer of cocaine.

Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. is a founder of Addiction HelpReviewed by:Kent S. Hoffman, D.O.

Chief Medical Officer & Co-Founder

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. has been an expert in addiction medicine for more than 15 years. In addition to managing a successful family medical practice, Dr. Hoffman is board certified in addiction medicine by the American Osteopathic Academy of Addiction Medicine (AOAAM). Dr. Hoffman has successfully treated hundreds of patients battling addiction. Dr. Hoffman is the Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer of AddictionHelp.com and ensures the website’s medical content and messaging quality.

Jessica Miller is the Content Manager of Addiction HelpWritten by:

Editorial Director

Jessica Miller is the Editorial Director of Addiction Help. Jessica graduated from the University of South Florida (USF) with an English degree and combines her writing expertise and passion for helping others to deliver reliable information to those impacted by addiction. Informed by her personal journey to recovery and support of loved ones in sobriety, Jessica's empathetic and authentic approach resonates deeply with the Addiction Help community.

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