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The Facts & Figures on Substance Abuse in the United States

Substance abuse is a serious problem throughout the world; in the United States, an estimated 23.5 million people are affected. However, out of these millions of addicted people, only an estimated 11.2 percent ever receives treatment in care facilities. Unfortunately, this means that the remaining men, women, and children 12 and up included in the statistics have to live with their addiction. Whether you yourself suffer from a substance addiction, or you're checking up for someone in your life, the following includes the facts, figures, and reasons behind substance abuse in the United States.

The Statistics

Substance abuse is characterized as the consistent use of any substance with mind-altering effects and a detrimental effect on the user's character and mental stability. Addicted persons typically suffer from a pattern of cause and effect with destructive behavior and stress resulting from the addiction. Currently an estimated 7% of the population suffers from an addiction at one point in their lives, with an average of 2% of the population addicted at any given time.

USA. Past month illicit drug use. Age 12 or older, by race or ethnicity
Description: Results from the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The above graph showing past month illicit drug use among persons aged 12 or older.

The substances in question range from prescription drugs to household cleaners and everything in between. Out of those statistics, alcohol related addiction is the most common, making up some 41.4 percent of treatment facility admissions. Heroin and opiates come in second at some 20 percent of admissions, while marijuana accounts for some 17 percent of admissions. However, prescription drug abuse is an equally large threat, although less well documented. Misuse of prescription drugs, including sleeping pills, pain relievers, and stimulants, are responsible for 45 percent of all drug related deaths, as opposed to the 39 percent caused by 'hard drugs' like heroin and methamphetamines.
Harm Caused By DrugsTable
Both legal and illegal drugs can do much harm. Legal drugs are not necessarily safer than illicit. They can also cause drug dependency, which eventually may lead to addiction. Interestingly, a 2010 study published in the Journal Lancet found that despite being legal more often than the illicit drugs, alcohol was analyzed the most dangerous by far. The above illustration is the maximum possible harm ratings of certain drugs measured by the drug-harm experts in the study.

While the latter are more dangerous in terms of detrimental effect on the body, more people overdose, or mix substances and alcohol with prescription drugs. You can check the National Survey of Drug Use and Health by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) for more information.

What are the Causes of Substance Abuse?

Drug Brain Activity
Substance abuse is a chronic brain disease, causes by addicting chemicals in the substance. The most frequent result is an uncontrollable desire for more of that substance, which often leads to neglecting family, friends, job, and other duties. Substance addiction causes the brain to release a large amount of a chemical known as dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain, which affects the brains 'reward circuit' to cause a 'high' satisfaction. Over time, the brain adapts to the mechanism of misused substances, releasing less amounts of dopamine, and causing the user to try more of the substance, which results in further addiction.

There are many causes of substance misuse including peer pressure, social and mental problems, stress, psychiatric issues, unemployment, etc. Some people are more easily addicted to substances than others are, as they are more sensitive to the neurotransmitters released into the brain or to particular compounds.

Fortunately, treating the physical addiction is almost always possible if the addicted person agrees to it. However, solving the underlying mental and psychological issues is more important for ensuring that the person doesn't relapse. The majority of treatment centers focus on a 12-step process of guilt admission, religious beliefs, and group therapy. Behavioral therapy that treats the actual issue is now growing in popularity.

Treatment for Substance Abuse

Typically, treatment options vary depending on the level of addiction, the substance used, and the person's age. Many people in the early stages of addiction go through outpatient rehabilitation where they continue with their jobs and their lives while seeking help. The help groups are typically either a clinic or one of the substance anonymous groups, or a combination of the two.

Inpatient drug rehab is an option for people who are very addicted as residential stays in hospitals and clinics prevent the addicted person from accessing the substances they are addicted to. These programs typically include long-term treatment options with a minimum stay of 30-90 days, and then outpatient care to ensure that returning home doesn't cause a relapse.

Most traditional substance abuse treatment is characterized by periods of relapse before the patient is truly free of their addiction. This is mainly caused by familiar triggers, temptations from 'friends', and stress, all of which can be avoided by learning how to handle these triggers through behavioral therapy.

Anyone looking to get into a drug treatment program should consult with their doctor to determine the best options and treatment possibilities for their needs. While there are many different types of rehabilitation, some treatment methods are better for certain levels or types of addiction, so it is always a good idea to get a professional opinion first.

Medical Reference

Nutt DJ, King LA, Phillips LD, & Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs (2010). Drug harms in the UK: a multicriteria decision analysis. Lancet, 376 (9752), 1558-65 PMID: 21036393

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