Alcohol and Drug Abuse Statistics

We are always told that alcohol and drug abuse are common, but just how common they are? In this post, we are going to shed light on prescription drug stats and other useful figures you need to know. Keep in mind that prevalence is difficult to estimate on a global level due to numerous differences on national levels.

Causes of alcohol and drug abuse

Before we focus on statistics in alcohol and drug abuse it’s crucial to address the causes that lead to these problems.

First, we are going to provide a definition of drug abuse and alcoholism.

Drug abuse is defined as the use of illegal drugs or the misuse and abuse of prescription and over-the-counter medications in ways other than intended or recommended. Alcoholism, or alcohol use disorder, is defined as a pattern of alcohol use involving problems controlling your drinking, being preoccupied with alcohol, and continuing drinking alcohol despite problems it causes.

Substance addiction is a complex problem that doesn’t have a specific cause. It would be impossible to pinpoint a specific reason behind alcohol or drug abuse. Various factors could play a role in the development of abuse and addiction. These are demonstrated in the table below.

Genetics/heredity Psychiatric disorders Trauma Environmental factors
Addiction is considered moderately to highly heritable. Having a family member with an alcohol or drug addiction increases a person’s risk of developing a substance use disorder (SUD). There is a strong link between mental health problems and substance use disorders. For instance, an adolescent or adult who suffers from anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and other similar psychiatric disorders is more likely to develop an addiction to drugs or alcohol. Traumatic events in childhood (and even in adulthood) can increase the risk of addiction. Some of these traumatic events may include sexual abuse, verbal abuse, physical abuse, physical and emotional neglect, witnessing violence, etc. A person’s environment can play a role in developing addictive behaviors. The environmental factors can include living in a poor community, peer pressure, poor parental supervision, parental drug abuse, and criminal activity, presence of drugs at home and/or school.

When it comes to the link between addiction and mental health problems it’s important to mention that over 60% of adolescents in community-based substance use disorder treatment programs also meet the criteria for a mental illness. Additionally, 43% of people in SUD treatment for nonmedical use of prescription painkillers have a diagnosis or symptoms of mental health disorders, especially anxiety and depression. Back in 2014, out of 20.2 million people with SUD in the United States about 7.9 million had both SUD and mental illness. Studies show that persons with alcoholism-related psychiatric disorders are more likely to be illegally consuming alcohol than their counterparts without these disorders. These disorders may include depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, antisocial personality disorder, among others.

Global statistics on alcohol and drug abuse

In order to understand the extent of substance use disorders, it’s crucial to learn the prevalence rate definition. The prevalence rate is the total number of cases existing in a population divided by the total population. For example, if a measurement of drug abuse is taken in a population of 40,000 people and 1200 were recently diagnosed with this problem and 3500 are living with drug abuse, then the prevalence of drug abuse is 0.118.

Numbers show that in 2015, global prevalence among the adult population was as follows:

  • 4% for episodic heavy alcohol use in the past 30 days
  • 8% for cannabis use
  • 77% for amphetamine use
  • 37% for opioid use
  • 35% for cocaine use

While these percentages may not seem big, keep in mind we are talking about global prevalence which would still include millions of people.

The highest prevalence of heavy episodic alcohol use was recorded in Europe. The age-standardized prevalence of alcohol dependence was 843.2 per 100,000 people. The prevalence for cannabis, amphetamine, opioid, and cocaine use was 259.3, 220.4, 86.0, and 52.5 per 100,000 people respectively. The highest rates of cocaine, opioid, and cannabis use were observed in North America.
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Alcohol abuse prevalence

Our World in Data reports that the estimated global prevalence of alcohol use disorders is 1.4% of the population. The prevalence is highest in persons aged between 25 and 34 years old. That means that 2.5% of this specific population (25-34) in the world has alcohol use disorder. More precisely, it is estimated that over 107 million people in the world have alcohol use disorder. Of these, 75 million are men and 32 million are women.

The exact prevalence of alcohol consumption and abuse may vary from one country to another. For example, 14.1 million adults ages 18 and older had alcohol use disorder in the U.S. in 2019. More precisely, 5.6% of this age group is addicted t alcohol, numbers show.

Drug abuse prevalence

In June 2020, United Nations published a report which revealed that about 269 million people used drugs worldwide in 2018. This number is 30% higher compared to 2009. Over 35 million people suffer from drug abuse disorders, the report specifies. The most used substance on a global level in 2018 was cannabis (192 million users) while opioids remained the most harmful.

In the United States, about two million Americans misused opioid prescriptions for the first time in 2017. Of these, 10% became addicted to opioids. About 2.1 million Americans have an opioid use disorder. Additionally, 5% of people with an opioid use disorder try heroin. Speaking of heroin, about 494,000 Americans over the age of 12 are heroin users.

Prescription drugs stats

About 0.5 million deaths worldwide are attributable to drugs. Over 70% of those deaths are associated with opioids. Of these, 30% were overdose deaths. Opioid overdose symptoms include a pale face, limp body, fingernails, and lips turning purplish or blue, vomiting, inability to sleep or wake up, slow heart rate, and breathing.

In the United States, about 18 million people (over 6% of the population ages 12 and older) misused prescription medications in 2017. About two million Americans misused pain relievers for the first time within the past year. This equals 5,480 initiates a day. More than one million people misused prescription stimulants, 1.5 million misused tranquilizers, and 271,000 misused sedatives for the first time. The misuse of prescription drugs in the U.S. is most prevalent in adults ages 18 to 25.

In Canada, 22% of people over the age of 15 used psychoactive prescription drugs in some form in 2017.

About 12 million people in England (one in four adults) take medicines for pain, depression, and insomnia which they find difficult to stop. In 2020, about 16,994 admissions to hospitals across the UK were due to poisoning by drug misuse.

In Australia, about one million people ages 14 and older (4.8% of the total population) had misused pharmaceutical drugs in 2016. The nonmedical use of pharmaceutical drugs was higher than all illegal drugs, except cannabis.

Since alcohol abuse is so prevalent it’s impossible not to wonder how many alcohol deaths per year we witness. Alcohol abuse was associated with a mortality rate of 33.0 per 100,000 people in 2015. The illicit drug was had a mortality rate of 6.9 per 100,000 people. It’s important to keep in mind that deaths due to alcohol and drug abuse can occur both directly and indirectly. Substance abuse is directly and directly responsible for 11.8 million deaths per year.

On a global level at least 185,000 people died directly from alcohol use disorder back in 2017. In the United States alone about 95,000 people die from alcohol-related causes annually. What’s more, alcohol is the third leading preventable cause of death in the U.S.

Of all substance abuse disorders, alcohol has the highest death toll.

Numbers show that in a period between 1990 and 2017, the number of deaths due to substance use disorders looked like this:

  1. Alcohol – 184,934
  2. Opioids – 109,520
  3. Other illicit drugs – 45,270
  4. Cocaine – 7,287
  5. Amphetamine – 4,537

It’s safe to conclude these numbers increased significantly from 2017 to 2021, but we will have to wait for new reports to learn just how much.

The economic cost of alcohol and drug abuse

The economic burden of alcohol and drug abuse on a global level is difficult to estimate due to several issues such as inconsistencies in definitions, coverage, and measurement from one country to another.

One review attempted to estimate the global burden of alcohol and found the following:

  • 3-3.3% of total health costs
  • 4-14.4% of total public order and safety costs
  • 3-1.4% per thousand of GDP for criminal damage costs
  • 0-1.7% per thousand of GDP for drunk-driving costs
  • 7-10.9% per thousand of GDP for workplace costs

On a global level, these costs could be in the range of at least US $210-665 billion.

We can get a more detailed insight into the severity of these problems if we take a look at a national level. For instance, the economic burden of alcohol and drug abuse in the United States is immense. The burden of alcohol, illicit drugs, and prescription opioids on healthcare is $27 billion, $11 billion, and $26 billion respectively. The overall burden of alcohol use disorder is $249 billion, the illicit drug has a burden of $193 billion, and prescription opioids $78.5 billion. These costs include healthcare, crime, lost work productivity, and more.

Dangers of substance abuse

Substance use disorders can harm a person’s health, but also lead to dangerous behaviors such as suicidal thoughts and tendencies. In fact, persons with substance use disorder are six times more likely to attempt unexpected death at some point in their lifetime.

The exact cause of suicidal tendencies in addiction is unclear. However, addiction to drugs and alcohol has a major impact on a person’s mental health, contributes to depression, and may twist a person’s perception to the point they see no way out of their situation.

Alcohol and drug abuse contribute to other risky behaviors such as aggressiveness, violence towards others, engaging in risky sexual activities, Criminal activities such as burglaries, and thefts to obtain money to buy the drug. This is particularly the case with teenage drug and alcohol abuse cases since addiction is more prevalent in adolescents and young adults.

Addiction treatment statistics

Addiction treatment statistics are usually published on the local level due to the same issues as with the economic costs. For example, in the United States about 20.7 million people ages 12 or older needed treatment for SUD in 2017. Unfortunately, only four million (19%) of them received it. That being said, of over 18 million people who needed the addiction treatment but didn’t receive it, only one million (5.7%) felt they needed the treatment.

In the UK, in a period between April 2018 and March 2019 about 268,251 people were in contact with drug and alcohol services. The number of adults who entered treatment in 2019 increased by 4% compared to the previous year i.e. it went from 127,307 to 132,210.

How to lower prescription drugs stats

Substance use disorder is a serious problem across the globe, especially when it comes to prescription drug options. The reason is simple – prescription drugs are often easier to obtain. One way to lower addiction rates and prevent prescription drug misuse is to avoid over-prescribing these drugs. In many countries, prescription medications are too frequently prescribed and healthcare professionals need to recommend different treatment routes to their patients. Prescription medications should be recommended in cases when other treatment approaches fail to work. It’s also important to educate patients about the dangers of prescription drug misuse. Many patients wonder are muscle relaxers addictive or if other drugs could lead to dependence.

It’s not uncommon for pregnant women to wonder how long do opiates stay in their system while pregnant. But there is no specific answer since duration depends on the type of opioid. They can remain in the system for a few hours and even longer. The more they know about these drugs, the more responsibly they can use them. Treatment should be available to more people, as well as a well-structured treatment and support system.

Bottom line

Alcohol and drug abuse is a common problem worldwide. The prevalence of these problems keeps increasing as well as the burden to the economy and health dangers they cause. Fortunately, addiction is treatable, but it’s important to ensure a greater number of people get access to adequate programs.