The Presence of Substance Abuse In the U.S.

Substance Use Disorder has become a major issue in the US and a much talked about topic in recent years. Opioid addiction has been on the rise for decades, and the increased understanding of addiction as a mental disorder has lead to more awareness of the issue as a whole. However, those who have never experienced addiction, either themselves or through a loved one, only rely on a hypothetical understanding of exactly how common addiction can be.

To demonstrate the prevalence of substance use in the US, we analyzed a report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) documenting the number of people who were diagnosed with Substance Use Disorder (SUD) in 2017. We also examined the number of people who received treatment for their addiction that same year. The results of our analysis can be found below.


Graphic shows percentage of Americans with substance use disorder


According to SAMHSA

If you were to stand in a room with 100 people, 17 of them will have been diagnosed with an alcohol-based Substance Use Disorder over the past year. Of those 17 people, only 2 will have received treatment for their SUD. In addition, 12 people will have been diagnosed with a drug-based SUD, and only 3 of those people will have received treatment for their addiction.


Chart shows which illegal drugs americans are usingOf those aged 12 and up in 2017, about 15% of people have used marijuana over the past year, 4% have used pain relievers, and 4% used opioids. About 2% of people have used cocaine, tranquilizers, or stimulants over the past year. Only 1% have used LSD, ecstasy, inhalants, methamphetamine, or sedatives.


American addiction broken down by age group graphic


Based on statistics, 13 out of every 100 people in the US needed treatment for a substance abuse disorder of some kind in 2017. Of those 13 people, three of them fell into the 12-17 age group, 8 were between the ages of 18 and 24, and 2 were older than 25.


1 of 3 Americans with Substance Use Disorder receive treatment graphicAccording to SAMHSA, of those who needed treatment for drugs and alcohol, only a small percentage actually received treatment. Of those diagnosed with Substance Use Disorder, only 17% received treatment for alcohol. Only 12% of those people received treatment for drugs. An even smaller number, just 4% of people who needed treatment were able to get help with both drugs and alcohol.


Americans’ reasons for not entering treatment graphic


Of those who needed to get treatment in 2017, the biggest reason people did not get help was due to stigma. People were afraid of judgment from people at their work or in their communities if they sought treatment for their addiction. The second most common reason for not seeking treatment was healthcare reasons. The cost was too high for people to be able to afford the help they needed. About 40% of people who needed treatment were not ready to stop using, and 1 out of 4 people who needed treatment was in denial and did not believe that treatment was necessary.

Millions of people every year are diagnosed with Substance Use Disorder, but only a small fraction of those who need treatment actually seek help. The stigma associated with addiction, the cost of rehab, and the overall struggle of admitting that treatment is necessary in the first place all leads to people failing to get the help they need. Being able to read the signs and act as an advocate for those in your life touched by addiction can help those suffering from Substance Use Disorder find the right program and recover effectively. You can find more information on how to help those with SUD here.

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About The Contributor

Editorial Staff
Editorial Staff

Editorial Staff, American Addiction Centers

The editorial staff of Sunrise House is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed thousands... Read More

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