Friday, November 20, 2015

The Surprising Prevalence of Drug Abuse in America


by Gabriella Pinto-Coelho

A new study out of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism paints a bleak picture of drug addiction in the United States. Certain social factors like unemployment (which has a strong correlation to drug abuse) and the rise in prescription opioid use have contributed to the current state of drug use and abuse in our country.

The study from the NIAA analyzed data taken from a 2012-2013 national epidemiological survey. The research team focused on discovering the prevalence of drug use disorders (DUDs) as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th edition. The DSM-5 serves as an encyclopedia and diagnostic tool for mental and behavioral health disorders.

The findings revealed that roughly 9.1 million, or 3.9%, of Americans had a DUD diagnosis based on their reported use in a 12-month period. Even more concerning is that 9.1% of Americans had a DUD diagnoses based on their reported lifetime use. The statistics on treatment for those with DUDS are more disheartening; only 24.6% of those with lifetime DUDs received treatment, and just 13.5% of those with 12-month DUDs received treatment.

The researchers identified demographic characteristics that put individuals at a higher risk of developing a DUD, including:
  • ·         Men
  • ·         Caucasians and Native Americans
  • ·         Young, and previously married or never married adults
  • ·         Individuals with lower levels of income and education
  • ·         Individuals who reside in the Western states

The results also linked a set of psychological factors related to the 12-month DUD diagnoses:
  • ·         Major depressive disorder
  • ·         Persistent mild depression
  • ·         Bipolar disorder
  • ·         Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • ·         Personality disorders

Finally, psychological risk factors for lifetime DUDs include:
  • ·         Generalized anxiety disorders
  • ·         Panic disorders
  • ·         Social phobias

This study didn’t even include information on drug abuse for institutionalized individuals like prisoners and active duty military personnel. Given the fact that the risk factors above are prevalent in the prison population (e.g. young, men, low income and education) and in the active military population (e.g. PTSD, young, men), I think that the statistics quoted by the researchers are lower than they actually are.


While these findings are a little bit depressing, we have to face the facts. As the researchers said, we are facing an urgent need to destigmatize drug abuse and focus on education, prevention, treatment, and support.

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