top of page

The Impact of Drug Addiction to Society

Updated: Jul 12

Drug abuse and addiction has been a social problem in America for nearly a century. What may be surprising is that many of these illegal drugs were first introduced by doctors as legal over-the-counter and prescription medications. Here’s more about the history of illegal drugs in America. [Courtesy of]

History of Marijuana in America

Perhaps one of the oldest drugs in American history is marijuana, which was grown by the Jamestown settlers around 1600. Before the Civil War marijuana was a major source of revenue for the U.S., and marijuana plantations flourished during the 19th century. Marijuana was widely used as a medicinal drug from 1850 to 1937 and could even be purchased over the counter in pharmacies and general stores. Marijuana became an attractive alternative to alcohol after the price of alcohol was raised in 1920.

In the 1930s, studies began to emerge that linked marijuana use by lower class communities to crime and violence, leading to the eventual banning of marijuana in 1937. In the 1960s, marijuana use became a popular drug of choice among white Beatniks, and stricter penalties for marijuana offenses were passed under the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970. Since then, citizens and politicians alike have pushed to have marijuana decriminalized, but it remains an illegal drug in the U.S. Marijuana was, however, legalized for medical use in California in 1966 for people with serious illnesses, and medical marijuana still remains legal in some states.

History of Methamphetamine in America

The stimulant amphetamine first became popular in the medical community in the 1920s, where it was used for stimulating the central nervous system, raising blood pressure, and enlarging nasal passages. Amphetamines were widely distributed to soldiers during World War II to combat fatigue and improve endurance and mood, and were prescribed by doctors after the war to help fight depression.

Amphetamine abuse began during the 1930s when it became an over-the-counter inhalant drug marketed under the name Benzedrine. As more and more people legally used amphetamines, an illegal black market began to emerge. Illegal amphetamines were used commonly by truck drivers who wanted to stay alert on long commutes and athletes looking to improve their performance. Students also began taking illicit amphetamines to help them study.

The practice of injecting amphetamines gained popularity in the 1960s, which led the emergence of underground labs that were mainly controlled by outlaw motorcycle groups. During the 1970s, amphetamine use began to decline due to increased public awareness of its dangers and remained on a decline until the 1990s when crystal methamphetamine, a smokable form of methamphetamine, emerged. Since then, crystal meth has remained a popular drug of choice for three main types of users: high school and college students; blue-collar Caucasians; and unemployed persons in their 20s and 30s.

History of Cocaine in America

aq book about quitting cocaine
Heal and Grow

Cocaine was a popular medical drug in Europe for decades before it became popular in America. In 1886, “Coca-Cola” was introduced and contained syrup derived from coca leaves. That same year the Surgeon-General of the United States Army endorsed medical use of cocaine. Over the next few decades various unregulated medicinal “tonics” were sold in the U.S. containing cocaine, and hundreds of Hollywood silent movies depicted scenes of cocaine use. By 1902 there were an estimated 200,000 cocaine addicts in the U.S.

Cocaine was finally outlawed in 1914 and declined in usage over the decades until it regained popularity in the 1970s as a recreational, glamorized drug, eventually reaching its peak in 1982 with 10.4 million users. Some U.S. media declared cocaine as non-addictive and it was viewed as a relatively harmless drug until the emergence of crack in 1985.

History of Crack Cocaine in America

Crack, a form of cocaine that is sold as “rocks” and smoked, first appeared in large U.S. cities around 1985. Crack became a popular alternative to cocaine in urban and working-class areas because it was much cheaper than cocaine. This led to a dramatic increase in crack use known as the “Crack Epidemic of the 1980s.” A major crackdown on crack abuse was launched, leading to its eventual decline in usage.

History of LSD in America

LSD first emerged on the American scene during the 1950s, when the U.S. military and CIA researched the use of LSD as a “truth drug” that could be used to make prisoners talk. This led the psychiatric community to become interested in LSD for its possible therapeutic capabilities for depressed, psychotic and epileptic patients.

Illegal use of LSD began to escalate during the late 1950s and 1960s as mental health professionals and research study participants began to distribute the drug among their friends. LSD was only available through connections to the medical field until 1962, when a black market for LSD emerged in America. LSD was made illegal in 1966 and, soon after, an LSD black market emerged. Users began experiencing growing problems with the “new” LSD, which was contaminated and of a poorer quality than the medical-grade LSD they were used to. Despite its poorer quality, LSD was a popular drug of choice for “hippies” during the mid- to late-1960s. LSD use declined in the 1970s and 1980s, but reemerged in the 1990s in the rave subculture along with other hallucinogens.

History of Heroin in America

Life after heroin - the journey.

Opiates were popular in the United States throughout the 19th century, particularly among upper- and middle-class women who were prescribed tonics and elixirs containing opium to cure “female problems.” The practice of smoking opium was introduced in the 1850s and 1860s by Chinese laborers who came to the U.S. to work on railroads.

The opiate-based drug morphine was created in 1803 and widely used during the American Civil War as an injectable pain reliever, leading to the first wave of morphine addiction. Interestingly, the drug heroin was created in 1895 and marketed three years later as a potential solution to the increasing problem of morphine addiction. The charitable St. James Society even mailed free samples of heroin to morphine addicts as part of a campaign against morphine addiction.

As a result, heroin addiction began to take root and grow.

The second major wave of opiate addiction in America began in the 1930s and 1940s Harlem jazz scene, and again during the Beatnik subculture of the 1950s.

During the Vietnam War, heroin abuse became rampant among U.S. soldiers stationed abroad, with an estimated 10% to 15% of servicemen addicted to heroin. Heroin users began smoking and snorting heroin after improvements were made in the purity of street heroin in the 1980s and 1990s. As a result, heroin usage rose significantly in the 1990s.

Drug trafficking in the United States dates back to the 19th century. From opium to marijuana to cocaine, a variety of substances have been illegally imported, sold and distributed throughout U.S. history, often with devastating consequences.

Early Opium Trade in the United States

During the mid-1800s, Chinese immigrants arriving in Californiaintroduced Americans to opium smoking. The trading, selling, and distribution of opium spread throughout the region.

Opium dens, which were designated places to buy and sell the drug, began to crop up in cities throughout California and soon spread to New York and other urban areas.

Before long, Americans were experimenting with other opiates like morphine and codeine. Morphine was especially popular for use as a pain reliever during the Civil War, which caused thousands of Union and Confederate soldiers to become addicted to the drug.

The Harrison Act of 1914 outlawed the use of opium and cocainefor non-medical purposes, but the illicit drugs continued to circulate.The United States legally imported opium for more than 100 years.10 Opium is a dried, sappy substance harvested from the opioid poppy seed pod. In its raw form, it had long been observed as a powerful pain reliever, and several of its component alkaloid substances—which include morphine, codeine, and thebaine—would eventually serve as building blocks for the synthesis of many household drugs, including those for diarrhea, insomnia, bronchitis, and psychosis.11 By 1858, it was reported that 300,000 pounds of opium came to America each year.11

Historians note that the American Civil War was the turning point for widespread abuse of opiates.12 Opium-based drugs including morphine provided powerful relief for veterans suffering from physical pain and mental illness. In 1895, pharmaceutical giant, Bayer, released a new drug more powerful than aspirin and “safer than morphine” marketed under the brand name, Heroin.12

By 1903, heroin abuse rose to alarming levels in the United States, igniting concern from the federal government.13 The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 mandated that manufacturers disclose the contents of their products so consumers could discern opium-based products.13 A few years later, Congress passed the Opium Exclusion Act, which banned opium for the purpose of smoking.12

The first steps to curb opium traffic took place in 1909 when President Theodore Roosevelt called for an international conference to control opium movement across international borders.10 The resulting agreement restricted the use of opium overseas while doing nothing to control its use in the United States. It wasn’t until the Harrison Act of 1914 that opium sale and use was restricted at a national level.

Near the start of World War II, oxycodone was first introduced to the U.S. market. A few years later, another synthetic opioid—hydrocodone—began being marketed in the U.S. as an FDA-approved narcotic analgesic. Despite their availability, many doctors were leery of prescribing opiates because of the known risks of dependence. It wasn’t until after the Vietnam War that opiate use surged again as recreational drug abuse hit an all-time high and heroin use spiked among veterans.14

The federal government responded with the passing of the Controlled Substances Act in 1970 and the establishment of the Drug Enforcement Agency in 1973 to restrict access to opiates.14

Throughout the 1970s, doctors continued to avoid writing prescriptions for opioid medications, but by the 1980s and 1990s, a push for adequate pain management started to form among medical researchers.15

In 1994, Purdue Pharma began testing OxyContin, an extended-release version of oxycodone, for long-term pain management.15 In 1998, Purdue Pharma released an advertisement that depicted people who found relief from chronic pain by way of OxyContin. A year after the ad came out, opioid painkiller prescriptions jumped by 11 million.15

The push for pain management continued in 2001 when the Joint Commission set a standard for all physicians to assess the level of pain among their patients. The Joint Commission circulated educational materials and a printed book that asserted, “there is no evidence that addiction is a significant issue when persons are given opioids for pain control.”15

By 2014, opioid abuse had become a national problem. Nearly 2 million Americans abused or were dependent on prescription opioids, and many had turned to heroin as a cheaper alternative to prescription medications.16

In 2016, President Barack Obama signed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act to address the opioid epidemic. The law authorizes more than $180 million each year in new funding to fight the opioid epidemic in the form of prevention, treatment, recovery, law enforcement, criminal justice reform, and overdose reversal.17

Today, synthetic opioids including heroin, illicitly manufactured fentanyl, and certain fentanyl analogues are classified as Schedule I drugs. An individual trafficking 40 to 399 grams of fentanyl, 10 to 99 grams of fentanyl analogue, or 100 to 999 grams of heroin is subject to between 5 and 40 years in prison.9


Much like cocaine and opium, marijuana was a popular ingredient in many medical products sold in the late 19th century.18 It wasn’t until after the Mexican Revolution of 1910 when Mexican immigrants arrived in the United States with marijuana in tow, that recreational marijuana use took hold.18 As instability mounted during the Great Depression, fear of Mexican immigrants escalated in tandem with anti-marijuana sentiment from the public and government. By 1931, marijuana was outlawed in 29 states.18

In 1937, the federal government took action with the Marijuana Tax Act, a law that criminalized marijuana possession and sale.18 More severe measures followed in 1952 with the passage of the Boggs Act, which enforced mandatory sentences for offenses involving a number of drugs, including marijuana.19 The first offense for marijuana possession carried a minimum sentence of 2 to 10 years.20

In the 1960s and 1970s, drug use escalated with the counterculture and the free love era. Marijuana was associated with the movement, thus the federal government maintained its distaste for the drug and its symbolism. When Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act in 1970, which established categories for various drugs, marijuana was classified as a Schedule I drug—the most restrictive category.14

In 1972, President Richard Nixon appointed a bipartisan commission to evaluate laws surrounding marijuana.19 The commission determined that personal use of marijuana should be decriminalized, but Nixon rejected the recommendation. The commission’s findings were taken seriously by state lawmakers, however. Eleven states decriminalized marijuana after the commission published its report.19

In the 1980s, public attitudes shifted again when President Reagan championed the War on Drugs. In 1986, when President Reagan signed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, he raised federal penalties for marijuana possession and dealing.19

In 1996, California became the first state to legalize the possession and use of marijuana for medical purposes. By 2013, 19 other states had followed suit with laws that permitted the use of marijuanafor medical purposes.21

The federal government responded with crack-downs and raids, claiming medical marijuana producers were using their licenses as a cover for large-scale drug operations.

In 2012, Washington and Colorado became the first states to approve recreational use of marijuana.21Today, 8 states have approved marijuana for recreational use including Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada. Washington, D.C. has also legalized recreational marijuana use.

The federal government maintains its firm stance on marijuana trafficking, imposing penalties when dealers cross state lines. The first offense for trafficking 100 to 999 kilograms is 5 to 40 years in prison.9


LSD was created in 1938 by Swiss scientist Albert Hoffman.22 He ingested the drug accidentally and discovered that it produced vivid hallucinations. The drug eventually found its way to the United States when the CIA began conducting LSD experiments to better understand mind control and the drug’s effect on manipulating behavior for interrogation purposes.22

After military interest in LSD decreased, the psychiatric community began testing the drug for possible therapeutic treatments among epileptic and depressed patients. The first groups to use LSD for non-therapeutic purposes were those who received the drug from psychiatrist friends; thus, only a small number of people experimented with the drug throughout the 1950s.9

The drug was popularized in the 1960s during the counterculture movement.22 Two groups played a heavy hand in popularizing LSD: The League for Spiritual Discovery and the Merry Pranksters. The League for Spiritual Discovery focused on academic experiments related to human consciousness, while the Merry Pranksters hosted LSD-fueled parties. The Merry Prankster events, called Acid Tests, combined LSD with musical experience to create vivid, hallucinogenic experiences.24 These parties helped shape the psychedelic art and acid rock music now associated with the Summer of Love in 1967.25

In 1968, out of growing concern of the dangers posed by the drug, Congress passed the Staggers-Dodd Bill, making it illegal to possess LSD.23 In the 1970s, LSD was categorized as a Schedule I drug, and in the 1980s, mandatory sentences for LSD possession were sanctioned.

LSD use declined throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s, but the drug regained popularity in the 1990s within the rave subculture.9 Today, the drug remains a Schedule I drug, and a person trafficking between 1 and 9 grams of LSD is subject to 5 to 40 years in prison for a first offense.


MDMA was first created in 1912 by a German pharmaceutical company as an intermediate compound to be used for the synthesis of medications used to control uterine bleeding.25 The drug gained footing in the United States in the late 1970s among psychiatrists who believed MDMA helped facilitate client sessions and reduce inhibitions so patients could find clarity surrounding their struggles.25

Throughout the 1980s, MDMA use increased among recreational users—most notably among college students and young professionals.26

The drug became synonymous with rave culture and began appearing in nightclubs throughout Dallas and Chicago. By the summer of 1985, the drug, also commonly referred to as Adam or Ecstasy, had become alarmingly widespread in its use.27 The government responded that same year, declaring an emergency ban on MDMA and placing the drug as a Schedule I substance.25

Academics met the FDA’s decision with opposition, igniting a highly publicized debate between law enforcement and the scientific community. A petition requesting hearings was sent to the DEA, and legal processions began. The judge assigned to the hearing recommended that the DEA place MDMA on a less restrictive schedule. The DEA maintained its stance, yet the drug was briefly removed from Schedule I in 1987 before returning to that position a few months later where it remains today.29

MDMA use recently regained popularity with the electronic dance music (EDM) culture. Between 2008 and 2011, the EDM scene exploded and music festivals featuring hypnotic lights and pulsing music encouraged young concert-goers to experiment with MDMA and its derivatives.29 Data indicates that American teens reporting Ecstasy or MDMA use increased by 67% between 2008 and 2011.29

While MDMA remains a Schedule I drug today, no mandatory minimum sentences are enforced by the DEA.9rug arrest figures from 1979 until now tell a powerful story about the history of drug laws and enforcement in the United States. In 1979, fewer than 200 arrests took place for every 100,000 people.

By 2016, this number had increased to around 400 arrests per 100,000 people.

These numbers illustrate the rapidly evolving drug policy landscape over the past 5 decades; however, drug regulation and policing began well before the first drug task force was established in the 1970s.

Over the centuries, drug restriction efforts have increased from tax measures with the Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914, to strict policing and criminalization with the Anti Drug Abuse Act of 1988.

Below, we explore the history of illegal drugs in the United States, including cocaine, opium, marijuana, LSD, and MDMA.


For many years, cocaine was a legally distributed substance and an active ingredient in a number of products. The drug was first labeled as a pharmaceutical for those with low energy and as an energy-boosting supplement for athletes.4 By the turn of the 20th century, cocaine could be found in many products, including Coca-Cola and even margarine, and was regularly prescribed as a cure-all for ailments ranging from morphine addiction to asthma to tuberculosis and hay fever.5

Eventually, reports of cocaine addiction sparked concern that the drug posed a serious threat to the health and safety of its users. Local and state law makers began to restrict cocaine use, and eventually the federal government stepped in to curb drug abuse, including cocaine, with the passage of the Harrison Act of 1914.

The law banned non-medical uses of drugs such as cocaine and required health professionals to register for tax stamps and keep records of the drugs they prescribed to prove the legitimacy of their diagnoses.

After cocaine was banned, the drug largely went off the radar, except for a relatively minor blip during the Prohibition era. It wasn’t until the late 1970s that the drug regained popularity.

The drug first became a trendy choice among America’s elite. However, by the mid 1980s the average street price had significantly declined, and more than 6 million Americans were using cocaine on a regular basis.6

The widespread use of cocaine and other drugs in the 1980s culminated in some historical changes to national drug policy. President Ronald Reagan labeled drugs “America’s number one problem,” and cited the growing problem of crack cocaine as the primary target for anti-drug legislation and enforcement.4 First Lady Nancy Reagan bolstered the crusade with her Just Say No campaign, and the media joined her with fervent coverage of crack cocaine abuse and resulting tragedies.

In 1986, President Reagan signed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act to enforce strict mandatory minimum sentencing for drug users and increased the federal budget for supply-reduction efforts. Two years later, Congress strengthened measures to restrict cocaine use and sales with the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988.7

The laws imposed more serious penalties for crack cocaine than powdered cocaine. As a result, people in lower-income neighborhoods, where crack cocaine was sold as the more affordable form of cocaine, were subject to lengthy prison sentences.8

Today, pharmaceutical cocaine is classified as a Schedule II drug by the DEA, meaning the drug possesses high potential for abuse, but has currently accepted—albeit severely restricted—medical use. A person trafficking 500 to 5,000 grams of cocaine (powder) or 28 to 279 grams of cocaine base (crack cocaine) can receive a 5- to 20-year prison sentence for a first offense.9

Drug abuse also relates to other social problems experienced by the US. Violence, for example, is closely linked to it. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), At least half of the individuals arrested for crimes such as assault and homicide were under the influence of illicit drugs around the time of their arrest.

Meanwhile drugged driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, is the cause of accidents for approximately 10 to 22 percent of drivers.

Child abuse is another societal problem that has something to do with drug abuse, as two-thirds of patients in drug abuse treatment centers admitted to being abused physically or sexually as children.

Effects OF DRUG ADDICTION on Individuals and their Community

The drug problem is so widespread and pervasive that everyone is at least acquainted to or familiar with someone who is affected by drug abuse.

Individuals not only suffer from various health problems, they are also putting themselves at risk of death. Back in 2000, drug abuse and smoking were linked to around 460,000 deaths. Drug abusers don’t just risk getting ill, they also risk getting injured.

And this problem extends to people in the community. Oftentimes, accidents don’t just affect the addicted individual. Many people who just happen to be on the same road can be killed when a drugged driver gets on an accident.

While drug abuse is already a big problem for the individual all by itself, it is important to remember that there is a bigger world out there, with which we interact, that can be affected and harmed because of this addictive habit.

If you know someone who is abusing a substance, reach out to them and convince them to get rehabilitated. There’s no shame in trying to get better. It’s not just for their own good. Addiction is a social problem, so by getting treated by medical professional, they are doing society a lot of good.

They will undergo detoxification under the care of medical experts, so they can safely get off the drug while managing their withdrawal symptoms. With proper care and guidance, they can finally get back to living a sober life, and make the world around them an even better place to be.On the bigger scale, drug abuse becomes a major public health concern. It impacts the population on multiple levels, including health, economy, and the law. Every year, it takes a tremendous toll on society.

Did you know that diabetes costs the United States around $131.7 billion annually? Cancer costs $171.6 billion annually. Combine these two numbers and you get $303.3 billion per year—a number that’s still lower than what substance abuse costs the US every year.

Drug abuse costs the nation more than $484 billion annually. This has something to do with the number of drugs available illicitly; the number of prescription drugs that are abused; the number of people using them recreationally or misusing them; and all the different health effects that need to be treated due to substance abuse.

Aside from health care expenditures, this figure also accounts for lost earnings, and the costs associated with accidents and criminal activity.

Drug addiction as a whole is an enormous burden for society. It affects everyone: even those who don’t abuse the substances.Social problems are defined as factors that damage society. Their effects are on the grand scale, affecting communities and even entire nations. It can affect entire populations.

A drug addicted individual may not be able to cause all this damage and destruction. But consider how many people are abusing various substances, and how many are getting addicted. Imagine how many relationships and families are getting broken down by these adverse effects.

Once the image sets in of how far-reaching this problem is, it becomes crystal clear that drug abuse and addiction is a social problem.

Again, this is a picture that won’t be clear to a person suffering the effects of addiction. They are focused on the pain and discomfort of withdrawal, or the crash that goes after the high. The worst part is that they might not even want to get better. “Rehabilitation” has such as negative connotation in the public eye.

And this contributes to the shame that keeps people from seeking treatment. It’s a public opinion that allows drug addiction to remain a serious problem for society. It rivals its fellow social problems such as poverty, sexually-transmitted disease, alcoholism, unemployment, and sexual abuse.

A common misconception surrounding drug addiction is that it solely affects the life of the user. However, the idea that they aren’t hurting anyone except for themselves is an excuse that many individuals who abuse drugs use in order to justify their addiction. Drug addiction is not a one-person phenomenon, and it creates a domino effect on the lives of those around them. It is a social problem that normalizes drug use and affects individuals and their families.

Effects of Drug Addiction

At first glance, a drug addiction may appear to only affect the person who is using. However, because addiction is a destructive issue that can have an adverse effect on the community, family, and individual, it’s very rare that other people aren’t affected. An individual neglecting their responsibilities as a result of drugs can negatively affect their career, children’s education, or family’s financial security.

Their impact can also extend outside of the immediate family. Friends or community members who rely on their presence or companionship can suffer from their absence.

There are a variety of short-term and long-term health effects associated with addiction. Although the specific effects vary between drugs, prolonged abuse of any substance can lead to chronic disease or alter an individual’s productivity. The most permanent effect of drug addiction is death, which becomes more likely through addiction because of increased tolerance leading to overdose.

The Connection Between DRUG Addiction and Crime

There is a definitive link between crime and drug addictions that is mainly contributed to the illegal status of commonly abused drugs. Not only is it illegal to carry many of these drugs but an individual’s lowered inhibitions when under the influence can encourage them to commit other crimes.

The types of crime that an individual may commit when on drugs is extensive and dependent on a variety of sub-factors, but regardless, drug users are more likely than nonusers to commit crime. Petty theft in order to obtain drugs and satiate their cravings when desperate is another way in which drugs influence individuals to commit crimes.

How Drug Rehabilitation Can Better Society

There are two types of people: those who believe that drug addiction treatment should be given to everyone, and those who think that drug addiction shouldn’t be treated as a criminal issue. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter who suffers from addiction, criminal or not. With the proper help and treatment, you will be able to overcome your addiction and fit into society once again.

Due to the process of drug rehabilitation, there is almost a countless number of people who took the necessary steps to beat their crippling addiction and even become pillars of various communities. Some individuals have managed to procure fantastic jobs and live healthy, drug-free jobs.

Unfortunately, drug addiction is still in society. Once an addiction starts, it can become very difficult for you to come back from it. With that said, you don’t have to fight it alone. Don’t be ashamed to tell people of your addiction. Many people are going through or have gone through the same thing. You will need the support of your family, friends and even the professionals treating you. If you or someone you know is suffering from an addiction, asking for help is the first step to regaining control of your life.

Why Do People Use Drugs to Begin With?

We’ve talked before about the top reasons teens will do drugs, but there are many other factors influencing a person’s likelihood to start. Some of those reasons include:

  • Experimentation – Particularly for young people, experimentation is a common reason for trying drugs for the first-time: to feel what it’s like to be high.

  • Peer Pressure – Other kids, at school or around town, may push a person to use drugs. Teens and young adults may feel pressured to drink and use drugs, so that they will fit in.

  • Mental Health Factors – Some people use drugs to “feel better,” to cope with uncomfortable feelings as a result of mental health issues: social anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, low self-esteem, attention deficit disorder, eating disorders, and more.

  • Prescriptions – In today’s opioid epidemic, many addictions start with prescription drugs like OxyContin. Many prescription drugs are highly addictive, as well as over-prescribed. Oftentimes, addiction will start in a teenager who was prescribed painkillers after getting his wisdom teeth removed. Benzodiazepines – which ironically can be prescribed as anti-anxiety medications – are also highly addictive drugs.

  • Desire for Success – The pressure to succeed is great among aspiring individuals, particularly college students who have great academic pressure or young adults who aspire above all else to have a successful social standing. In their strive for success, many will turn to drugs to enhance their performance – whether that be on the field or in their studies, using drugs like Adderall to stay awake and focused.

What to Do When a Person Becomes Addicted to Drugs

Despite all the possible causes of drug addiction, there is good news. More than ever, researchers understand how drugs affect the brain—and, as a result, have found treatments that can help people recover and lead productive lives. Drug addiction is treatable and can be successfully managed with the right help.

Studies support an integrated, multifaceted approach to addiction treatment, where behavioral therapies are combined with clinical treatments to help patients overcome this battle. Drug treatment should involve individual counseling, as well, to help uncover a person’s reasons for using drugs and overcome those triggers.

This is key to achieving sobriety. Above all else, drug addiction treatment should always be tailored to an individual’s needs and drug use patterns – addressing any co-occurring disorders, or medical or social problems, that may be at play in the process.

If you suspect your loved one has a drug problem, do not blame yourself as the cause. Rather, take initiative to get your loved one the help that he or she needs. Addiction is a finnicky disease that disrupts how a person thinks and makes decisions – due to the influence of drugs, your loved one is not likely to seek out treatment on his or her own.

You may be here now, wondering, “Why do people get addicted to drugs?” or more significantly, “Why did this happen to my loved one?” Maybe you are wondering what causes drug addiction at all. You are not alone. Many family members – particularly parents – will have these questions top of mind, questioning whether they themselves are to blame for their loved one’s choices to use.

It is true that, initially, a person makes the choice to use drugs. However, after some time, that use can transition from voluntary to compulsive. Compulsive drug use is a defining sign of drug addiction, and means that the drugs have compromised a user’s natural ability to exhibit self- and impulse-control.

There is not a single cause of drug addiction, or a single reason why people get addicted to drugs. Rather, the likelihood that a person will get addicted to drugs depends on a combination of social, environmental, developmental, genetic, and psychological factors (called “risk factors”). The more risk factors a person has, reports the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the greater their vulnerability will be to drug addiction.

Drug Addiction Risk Factors
  • Genetics – According to the NIDA, genetics (the genes a person is born with) account for approximately half, or 50 percent, of a person’s risk for developing an addiction. Gender and ethnicity may also influence a person’s risk for drug abuse and addiction.

  • Environment Like with many other disorders, drug addiction is also largely environmental. A person’s surroundings – including family, friends, home and neighborhood – can all influence their chances of drug addiction in some way. One example of an environmental risk factor is living in a low-income neighborhood where there is more access to drugs and alcohol, even at an early age. Other environmental factors include peer pressure, stress, physical and sexual abuse, early exposure to drugs, and lack of parental guidance or education about drugs.

  • Development – Both genetic and environmental factors correlate with a person’s critical developmental stages. For example, when a teen uses drugs in adolescence (when the brain is still maturing), the risk for disrupting brain development is high. Research shows that almost 70 percent of adolescents who try an illicit drug before age 13 develop a clinical addiction within the next seven years. Teens who use drugs before age 18, and even before age 25, are also far more likely to get addicted to drugs down the road. While people can get addicted to drugs at any age, children, adolescents, and young adults are at greatest risk due to their stage of brain development.

  • Mental health disorders – When an individual is struggling with a mental health issue – such as anxiety disorder, depression, ADHD, or schizophrenia – he or she is more likely to get addicted to drugs. Oftentimes, a person experiencing mental or emotional distress will self-medicate with drugs, in efforts to escape the pain or experience temporary relief. Trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are other risk factors for drug addiction.

  • here is not a single cause of drug addiction, or a single reason why people get addicted to drugs. Rather, the likelihood that a person will get addicted to drugs depends on a combination of social, environmental, developmental, genetic, and psychological factors (called “risk factors”).

Shaming someone to quit drug use rarely works. The feeling of shame often causes drug use.

2019, 19.3 million adults had SUD. They comprise 7.7 percent of the U.S population.2

Drug use is highest among people aged 18 to 25, at 39 percent.3

Among adults suffering from SUDs:2

  • 38 percent struggled with illicit drugs

  • 73 percent struggled with alcohol use

  • 12 percent struggled with both drugs and alcohol

  • 4 percent have both a SUD and mental illness

Only 11 percent of adults with SUD receive treatment. Twenty percent don’t know where to get help.4

Younger people are also vulnerable to drug abuse. More than 40 percent of youth in the U.S. tried illicit drugs at least once. In particular, the percentage of young drug users are:5, 6, 7

  • 8 percent of eighth-graders

  • 20 percent of tenth-graders

  • 24 percent of twelfth-graders

Moreover, young people who started using drugs early are more likely to develop a SUD. For instance, 70 percent of those who began using at age 13 have a SUD compared to 27 percent who started at age 17.6, 8

Other SUD-related figures:

  • Every year, 16 million or 6 percent of Americans over the age of 12 abuse prescription drugs.3

  • Two million or 12 percent of prescription drug abusers have a drug addiction.3

  • Drug-involved overdose deaths tripled—from 6.1 to 21.6 per 100,000 people—from 1999 to 2019.9

  • The annual cost of substance abuse treatment is over $600 billion.10

Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) Statistics

Alcohol accounts for over 5 percent of all deaths worldwide. That’s around 3 million deaths per year.11

In the U.S., around 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes every year. On average, alcohol poisoning kills six people daily.13

Among adults in the U.S.:

  • Roughly 25 percent had at least one heavy drinking day14

  • Nearly 40 percent drink in excess12

Heavy drinking can lead to alcohol use disorder (AUD). It’s a serious chronic condition that:

  • Affects around 16 million people in the U.S.12

  • More prevalent among men (12.4 percent) than women (4.9 percent)5

  • Most prevalent among 18- to 29-years-olds (16.2 percent)5

  • Least common among people aged 65 years and older (1.5 percent)5

Young people usually drink less than adults. But if they do, they tend to drink more (binge drinking):

  • Over 90 percent of alcohol consumed by young people is through binge drinking.12

  • Around 4.2 million young people binge drank at least once in the past month.12

  • Around 825,000 young people binge drank five times or more in the past month.12

The cost of alcohol misuse amounts to $249 billion per year in the U.S. This covers healthcare costs, lost productivity at work, property damage, crime, and more.15

Opioid Use Disorder (AUD) Statistics

Some opioids (like hydrocodone, oxycodone, and fentanyl) are prescribed for severe pain. However, they are sometimes misused. This means they are used for purposes not consistent with legal or medical guidelines.

Around 10 million people misused opioids in 2019. They comprise 3.7 percent of the U.S. population.

Among these opioid misusers:2

  • 96 percent misused prescription opioids

  • 4 percent concurrently misuse prescription opioids and use heroin

Among prescription opioid misusers:2

  • 51 percent got the drug through a relative or friend

  • 37 percent got or stole the prescription from a healthcare provider

Buprenorphine is the top opioid with the highest percentage of misusers (at 27.8 percent). It’s followed by methadone (22.5 percent) and oxycodone (13.1 percent).2

Other opioid-related figures:

  • 50,000 people die every year from an opioid overdose.3

  • Opioids are behind 72 percent of overdose deaths.3

  • 53 percent of overdose death is due to fentanyl.3

Other Substance Abuse Statistics

In 2019, the most commonly used drugs based on the number and percentage of users are:2, 3

  • Marijuana: 48.2 million (17.5 percent)

  • Psychotherapeutic drugs: 16.3 million (5.9 percent)

  • Hallucinogens: 6 million (2.2 percent)

  • Cocaine: 5.5 million (2.0 percent)

  • Inhalants: 2.1 million (0.8 percent)

  • Methamphetamines: 2 million (0.7 percent)

  • Heroin: 745,000 (0.3 percent)

Forty-five percent of surveyed Americans said they tried marijuana at least once.16

A third of those who used marijuana may have some degree of marijuana use disorder. One in 6 people who started using marijuana before the age of 18 become addicted.3

In 2020, marijuana use reached its highest rate among college students, at 44 percent.3, 17

Hallucinogens (like LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, and other psychedelic substances) are also popular among college students. In 2020, nearly 9 percent of college students used hallucinogens, which is higher than the 5 percent figure in the previous year.17

Other drug abuse statistics:

  • In 2017, around 1 in 5 drug overdose deaths were cocaine-related. The highest rate of overdoses and deaths is among non-Hispanic black populations.3

  • So-called “club drugs” (like ecstasy, meth, cocaine, ketamine, and LSD) are mainly used by young people in higher-income brackets.

  • Meth and fentanyl are seen as the most significant threats in western and midwestern areas of the U.S.3

At 51.5 deaths per 100,000 people, West Virginia has the highest rate of overdose deaths in the U.S.

  • According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 19.7 million American adults (aged 12 and older) battled a substance use disorder in 2017.1

  • Almost 74% of adults suffering from a subst ance use disorder in 2017 struggled with an alcohol use disorder.

  • About 38% of adults in 2017 battled an illicit drug use disorder.

  • That same year, 1 out of every 8 adults struggled with both alcohol and drug use disorders simultaneously.

  • In 2017, 8.5 million American adults suffered from both a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder, or co-occurring disorders.

  • Drug abuse and addiction cost American society more than $740 billion annually in lost workplace productivity, healthcare expenses, and crime-related costs.2

Causes of Addiction

  • Genetics, including the impact of one’s environment on gene expression, account for about 40% to 60% of a person’s risk of addiction.

  • Environmental factors that may increase a person’s risk of addiction include a chaotic home environment and abuse, parent’s drug use and attitude toward drugs, peer influences, community attitudes toward drugs, and poor academic achievement.

  • Teenagers and people with mental health disorders are more at risk for drug use and addiction than other populations.

Lack of control The substance is used in larger amounts or over a longer time than the person originally intended. Those with problematic substance use patterns may feel as though someone else is choosing their actions for them, and may find themselves taking steps to acquire and use drugs without an abundance of conscious awareness of how they got there.

  • Desire to limit use Users may want to cut back on use but are unable to do so. They may repeatedly say to others and to themselves that they plan on quitting, and quitting very soon at that. There can be a clear knowing that misuse of substances isn’t the proverbial “right thing to do.”

  • Time spent A considerable amount of time is spent trying to acquire a substance. Those who struggle with addiction may plan out how they are going to acquire their desired substance, spend a long time executing their plan (especially if things go wrong), and then spend time under the effects of the substance — possibly incapacitated by its effects and aftereffects.

  • Cravings The user experiences an intense desire or urge to use the drug. Recurring thoughts of using, or of the feelings that one anticipates after using, may occur at various points throughout the day or night. These can be incredibly unpleasant and distracting.

  • Lack of responsibility Substance use takes priority over work, school, or home obligations. Sick days may be used more often, plans may be made and then canceled at the last minute, and there may be a variety of excuses and rationalizations that are ostensibly concerned with external circumstances but are actually driven by addiction.

  • Problems with relationships Interpersonal relationships are consistently strained from drug use. Friends may become alienated, trying to help but feeling unsure of how to do so. Family members may feel the same way; home life can suffer, divorce may occur, and psychosocial support can dwindle.

  • Loss of interest The user stops engaging in important social or recreational activities in favor of drug use. Much like with depression, there no longer seems to be any reward in participating in hobbies or interests that once held charm.

  • Dangerous use Use continues despite dangerous circumstances. Users may find themselves living in dwellings with other users, potentially sharing drug paraphernalia in a way that may contribute to disease. Intoxicated driving can occur, which can end in death.

  • Worsening situations Use continues despite worsened physical or psychological problems. A downward spiral may take shape; users may see the conditions of their lives deteriorating around them and decide that, given the situation, they may as well continue taking drugs. This only makes matters even more dire.

  • Tolerance Larger amounts of the substance are needed to achieve the desired effects. One or 2 drinks can become 3 or 4, climbing upwards from there. A joint can become a bong, which can turn into a dab. Doses increase as the brain adjusts itself to the repeated stimuli it is being given in an attempt to maintain homeostasis.

  • Withdrawal This can be physical and emotional. Side effects may include anxiety, irritability, nausea, and vomiting. In the case of severe alcoholism, withdrawal can even be fatal; delirium tremens, a condition that can cause hallucinations and seizures, is one hazard an alcohol user that drinks heavily should be careful to guard against.Whether it’s a problem with alcohol, Opioids, Cocaine, or any other substance, addiction kills thousands of Americans every year and impacts millions of lives. Addiction, or substance use disorder (SUD), is a chronic mental health condition.

Because it affects the brain’s normal functions, an SUD compels someone to repeatedly use substances or engage in behaviors even though they have harmful consequences. Addictions can destroy marriages, friendships, and careers and threaten a person’s basic health and safety.

  • Almost 21 million Americans have at least 1 addiction, yet only 10% of them receive treatment.

  • Drug overdose deaths have more than tripled since 1990.

  • Alcohol and drug addiction cost the US economy over $600 billion every year.

  • About 20% of Americans who have depression or an anxiety disorder also have a substance use disorder.

  • More than 90% of people who have an addiction started to drink alcohol or use drugs before they were 18 years old.

  • Americans between the ages of 18 and 25 are most likely to use addictive drugs.Let's get into stats. Addicted, overweight, and/or depressed? Alcohol is the most widely-abused substance in the US, yet alcoholism is often left untreated. An addiction to alcohol can be detrimental to a person’s physical, mental, and social wellbeing.

  • Every year, worldwide, alcohol is the cause of 5.3% of deaths (or 1 in every 20).

  • About 300 million people throughout the world have an alcohol use disorder.

  • On average, 30 Americans die every day in an alcohol-related car accident, and 6 Americans die every day from alcohol poisoning.

  • About 88,000 people die as a result of alcohol every year in the United States.

  • About 6% of American adults (about 15 million people) have an alcohol use disorder; only about 7% of those people ever get treatment.

  • Men between the ages of 18 and 25 are most likely to binge drink and become alcoholics.

Statistics On Opioid Addiction And Abuse

Opioids are a class of drugs which block sensations of pain and cause euphoria. They are dangerous because they pose very high risks for addiction and overdose. Opioids are an ingredient in many pain-relieving medications. Since they are controlled substances, drug traffickers also sell them illegally. Opioids, both illegal and prescribed, have caused a surge of deaths in the US in the past 2 decades.

  • About 130 Americans die every day from an Opioid overdose.

  • Since 1999, the sale of Opioid Painkillers has skyrocketed by 300%.

  • About 20% to 30% of people who take prescription Opioids misuse them.

  • About 10% of people who misuse prescription Opioids become addicted to Opioids.

  • Approximately 2.1 million Americans have an Opioid use disorder.

  • About 5% of people with an Opioid use disorder will try Heroin.

Heroin is a powerful and addictive Opioid. It is an illegal drug which poses serious risks for overdose. Heroin, especially Heroin mixed with Fentanyl (a very powerful Synthetic Opioid), has been a major contributor to the Opioid epidemic in the United States.

  • Roughly 0.3% of American adults are Heroin users.

  • There are over 100,000 new Heroin users each year.

  • More than 28% of 2019’s Opioid overdose fatalities were linked to Heroin.

  • Due to use patterns and Narcan, the rate of Heroin-linked overdose deaths fell 6% from 2018 to 2019.

  • There were 14,019 Heroin-linked deaths by overdose in 2019.

  • Though deaths have dipped recently, they still almost quintupled from 2010 to 2019.

Marijuana is a psychoactive drug which comes from a THC-bearing plant. It is becoming increasingly legal throughout the US, both for medicine and for recreation, but it’s still not completely safe because it may be addictive and cause health problems.

  • About 30-40 million Americans smoke Marijuana every year.

  • About 43% of American adults admit to trying Marijuana.

  • About 30% of people who regularly use Marijuana have a Marijuana use disorder.

  • The average batch of Marijuana in 1990 contained less than 4% THC, but that percentage has since risen to over 12%.

  • Roughly 10% of all Marijuana users will become addicted to the drug.

  • Around 17% of all who start using the drug as minors become addicted.

As of 2019, anyone over the age of 21 in the US can easily purchase a box of cigarettes. Although cigarettes are legal and accessible, they cause a variety of fatal health conditions and are also addictive.

  • About 34 million Americans smoke cigarettes.

  • Each day, roughly 1,600 young people smoke a cigarette for the first time.

  • About 15% of American men and about 13% of American women smoke cigarettes.

  • People who are disabled, live below the poverty line, or lack a college education are more likely to smoke cigarettes.

  • Over 16 million Americans have a smoking-related illness.

  • Smoking cigarettes is the cause of over 480,000 deaths every year in the United States.

Cocaine is an illegal Stimulant. Whether it comes in the form of powder or crystal (commonly called “Crack”), Cocaine can damage organs, provoke mental disorders, and cause respiratory failure. Cocaine is also highly addictive. Some Cocaine users may become addicted after using the drug only once.

  • About 5 million Americans are regular Cocaine users.

  • A little under 2% of 8th graders had used Cocaine as of 2020.

  • In 2020, almost 1% of 8th graders had used Crack.

  • Cocaine-related fatalities have grown every year since 2013.

  • There were 14,666 such deaths in 2018.

  • Americans between the ages of 18 to 25 use Cocaine more than any other age group.

Methamphetamine, which is commonly called Meth, is a controlled substance which has a high potential for abuse, overdose, and addiction. As an illegal drug, Meth is usually sold as “Crystal” (white rocks or fragments) to be burned and smoked. Meth is highly addictive and dangerous for a person’s health.

  • About 774,000 Americans are regular Meth users. About 16,000 of them are between the ages of 12 and 17.

  • The DEA obtained over 117,000 pounds of Meth in 2019.

  • About 964,000 Americans are addicted to Meth.

  • Meth tested by the DEA had an average of 97.2% purity in the first half of 2019.

  • Just over 1% of 8th graders had tried Meth as of 2020.

  • Meth overdose fatalities increased almost threefold from 2015 to 2019.

Hallucinogens are a category of mind-altering drugs. Psilocybin Mushrooms, DMT, Mescaline, LSD, PCP, Ketamine, Ecstasy, and Salvia are all Hallucinogenic drugs. They are all illegal and they all carry risks for traumatizing hallucinations, impaired judgment, and addiction.

  • About 1.4 million people in the United States are regular Hallucinogen users. About 143,000 of them are minors between the ages of 12 and 17.

  • Almost 8% of all 12th graders had used Hallucinogens at least once as of 2020.

  • Donors gave $17 million to Johns Hopkins for the study of Hallucinogenic therapy.

  • Roughly 20 million Americans have taken LSD.

Inhalants are a group of solvents, gases, and aerosol sprays which people inhale to get high. Inhalants are household objects like nail polish, glue, hair spray, and leather cleaner, but they can have mind-altering effects. “Huffing” Inhalants can cause a person to lose consciousness or develop addiction.

  • More than 23 million Americans have tried an Inhalant at least once in their lives.

  • About 556,000 Americans are regular Inhalant users.

  • Almost 9% of 12th graders in 2018 reported using an Inhalant.

  • Inhalants contribute to about 15% of deaths by suffocation every year.

2 views0 comments


bottom of page