Substance Abuse: Statistics In The Us And Risk Factors

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World Health Organization defines substance abuse as hazardous/illegal/harmful use of psychoactive substances. Psychoactive, also known as psychotropic substances refer to chemicals that change an individual’s mental state, by altering the way the nervous system and brain work. This often leads to intoxication, which is the main reason people abuse drugs. Psychoactive substances are usually found in some medications, illegal and recreational drugs, in alcohol, as well as in some animals and plants. The commonly abused drugs, according to the WebMD, include alcohol, over the counter and prescription drugs, heroin, cocaine, marijuana, cigarettes, and other tobacco products.

Prevalence of Substance Abuse

By 2005, 22 million Americans by estimation were already struggling with drugs or alcohol-related problems. A whopping 95% with substance use-related problems are unaware of their problem. Of those who recognize or become aware of their problem, 273,000 have been unsuccessful in obtaining treatment. These figures emphasize the essence of working more on prevention efforts and the need to improvise access to treatment for substance abuse and dual (co-occurring) disorders.

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Substance Abuse Statistics in the US

  1. In 2017, more than 19.7 million Americans aged 12 years and above struggled with a substance abuse disorder
  2. Substance abuse and addiction cost the country more than $740 billion annually in terms of healthcare expenses, crime-related costs, and lost productivity
  3. In 2017, approximately 4 % of the teens aged between 12 and 17 suffered from a drug use disorder
  4. In figures, 443,000 adolescents suffered from a substance use disorder
  5. About 14.8% of young adults (18-25 years), suffered from substance abuse. This is an equivalent of 5.1 million youths
  6. Approximately 6.4% of individuals aged above 26 years battled substance abuse in 2017, which is an equivalent of 13.6 million of the adult age group
  7. Nearly 1 million individuals aged over 65 years suffered from substance use disorder, which is equivalent to 2.03% of this age group

In 2018, more than 67,300 American citizens died from substance overdose, including prescription opioids and illicit drugs. Deaths from substance overdose shot to 70,237 in 2017 from 38,329 in 2010, followed by a significant decline in 2018 to 67,367 deaths. Whether directly or otherwise, the reported cases of deaths resulting from excessive substance use in the US are at alarming rates; and unless serious steps are taken in this regard, we may continue to report more fatalities from substance abuse. The graphical representation below gives a clear outlook on the data.

Much has been done in the U.S to address the problem of substance abuse, but it’s not enough yet. There is still need and room to do much more in health promotion for the sake of individuals suffering from substance abuse. More mediation, enabling and advocacy for support by both the Federal and the State governments must remain a primary objective of all stakeholders involved in this campaign. This promotion requires more resources both in the form of funding and policy to complement the communities’ efforts in prevention, rehabilitation and the available treatment while narrowing the gaps of the unavailable treatments. Thankfully, more is being done on research concerning this subject contrary to the past when substance abuse was purely considered personal choice and irresponsibility.

DAST-10 Screening Tool

A variety of substance abuse screening tools have been developed over time. Among them is the Drug Abuse Screen Test (DAST-10). This tool is designed to provide a precise, self-report instrument for clinical case finding, screening of the population, and research-based evaluative treatment. The tool is effective in older youth and adults and works by using a number of self-report items. In its initial version, the tool contained 28 self-report items but have since been compressed and reduced to 10. The estimated internal reliability of the DAST-10 is 0.92, which is a substantial figure. A factor analysis of elements inter-correlations demonstrates a one-dimensional scale. With matter specificity, due to response style biases, the DAST-10 was initially only averagely correlated with social denial and desirability. Concurrent validity has been tested by correlating DAST-10 with indices of psychopathology, frequency of substance use over one year and other background variables.

Risk Factors

There are several risk factors for substance abuse. Age plays a vital role in the change in human behavior. Curiosity, peer influence and increased responsibilities, among others, could work against an individual’s ability to restrain from unwanted behavior. Teenagers are more vulnerable to initiation into substance use as they try to gain a sense of belonging among the people they admire and the lifestyle they desire. They are easily lured into new habits, and many have found themselves in drug consumption without a very clear reason as to why they have taken that path.

As an individual learns to socialize and interact, there’s the likelihood of falling for bad influence and developing new habits either constructive or destructive. Many adolescents and young adults have confessed to have been recruited into substance abuse by their friends in recreational and entertainment places, learning institutions or in their common meeting places. The natural and social environment, in which one is brought up, therefore, plays a great role in how an individual will relate to the subject of substance abuse in the present or future.

Spirituality such as sects that use certain substances as symbols of unification has in recent times contributed to substance abuse. Marijuana, for example, is considered a sign of identity among the Rastafarians. Consequently, many followers of this sect are heavy users of the substance and consistently use it as a way of paying tribute to the legends of the sect. To them, marijuana is a sacred plant with holy powers.

Availability of many prescription drugs in stores on every street has led to several cases of substance abuse. Unlike other forms of hard drugs, over-the-counter drugs may take time before an individual realizes they are in real health disorder. The journey to hard drugs, especially those consumed by way of smoking, may start with light consumption of tobacco and tobacco products. The desire for new flavors grows, and eventually, an initial cigarette smoker finds themselves in marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and so on. Scientists are still investigating the relationship between genetic composition of an individual and their likelihood to abuse substance. Although there are only small portions of cases, DNA sequencing technologies have suggested heritability of nicotine and alcohol addiction from well-established genetic variants.


Health promotion is more relevant today than it has even been. As more research methods come into place by use of technology, the expectation is that the professionals in charge of the health system will take advantage of the advancements and come up with even more technological screening tools that are more detailed and accurate.


  1. Addiction Statistics | Drug & Substance Abuse Statistics. (2020). Retrieved 26 May 2020, from
  2. Substance abuse. (2020). Retrieved 24 May 2020, from
  3. Substance Abuse: Know the Signs (2020). Retrieved 24 May 2020, from
  4. Ritchie, H., & Roser, M. (2015). Drug Use. Retrieved 27 May 2020, from


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