Drug Addiction Statistics and Facts
Questions and Answers
In our society, drug addiction and drug abuse are ever-present issues that impact every community, every group of people, every income level and drug addiction statistics indicate that it costs hundreds of billions of dollars in taxpayer money each year.
But drug addiction and abuse are not merely social problems, and often people will incorrectly point to drug addiction and drug abuse as criminal acts, or caused by people of weak character, or something that people can just stop by sheer will power.
More about Drug Addiction Statistics
Addiction is a disease that effects the brain and is far more complex than simply referring to it as a behavioral problem. Advances in science have shown how alcohol/drugs interact with brain chemistry, leading to new treatment techniques and greater possibilities of addicts returning to a healthy and productive life.
This page is designed to answer some of the questions you may have concerning alcohol/drug abuse and addiction. It is by no means an exhaustive listing, but hopefully will give you an overview of addiction disease in this country.
Drug Addiction Statistics: Health
What is drug addiction? Drug addiction is a chronic brain disease. Addicts crave more and more drug, as they are captivated by its effects. The structure and function of the brain are changed with repeated use, and over time the act of using drugs is no longer because they want to and no longer for pleasure. Addicts self-medicate to feel “good” or feel “normal” They experience intense craving for the drug and even after treatment, relapse is possible
Why is it so tough not to use drugs/alcohol? The changes in brain chemistry that cause the intense craving do not just go away when a person stops using. Treatment is necessary to assist where mere willpower cannot go alone. Sometimes medications are called for, not only to help with drug withdrawal, but with coping with the cravings. The medical intervention is designed to help addicts cope with the disease and regain their control.
Can drug addiction be managed? Drug addiction is a chronic disease, like asthma, heart disease or diabetes. It is not uncommon for drug addicts to relapse, just as it is not uncommon for sufferers of other chronic disease to relapse. However, additional treatment will help bring back control.
What happens to the brain when people take drugs? Drugs change the brain’s communications system. Drugs impact the brain’s normal chemical makeup in two ways. Drugs can mimic the brain’s natural chemical messengers and/or they can over stimulate the brain’s natural “reward system.” For example, marijuana and heroin are drugs that share a similar structure to the brain’s chemical messengers, called neurotransmitters.
Because the structure is similar, marijuana and heroin can “fool” the brain’s chemical receptors and cause nerve cells to send abnormal messages. Other drugs, like cocaine or methamphetamine, will cause nerve cells to over release natural neurotransmitters and prevent the brain from recycling these natural brain chemicals. This causes an unusually greater message to be carried, and in the end, it changes normal brain communication.
Why do people take these drugs? Drugs cause the brain to be flooded with the neurotransmitter dopamine. This is a natural chemical that regulates the brain’s reward system. This would include feelings of pleasure, but also includes our emotions, motivations for survival (eating, relationships) and movement. The drugs over stimulate the communications system. When that happens, the brain’s response to the drug is to produce a euphoric feeling. The experience is powerful, as people will get a pleasurable “high” and that is where trouble begins. The user will want to repeat the experience and the brain becomes fooled into thinking that is what is normal.
How does the brain get fooled? When a person uses repeatedly, over time the brain will begin to think that the surge in dopamine, caused by the drug, needs to be regulated, so it will produce less dopamine. With less dopamine receptors in the circuit, the reward is lowered. The drug doesn’t work as well, and so the user is compelled to keep abusing drugs to try to gain the same effect. They will use larger amounts of the drug. This tolerance to the drug is dangerous.
Why is tolerance to the drug dangerous? As the user needs more and more drug to achieve the same pleasurable effect as before, and slips into addiction, the brain is fooled into thinking a certain amount of drug is needed to feel normal. At some point, overdose is possible, if not probable. Let’s say a person goes into treatment and the brain’s natural chemical balance is restored, then he/she uses again at the same level they did before, the results can be overwhelming. Overdose occurs, even though they could tolerate the same amount before.
What chemistry changes in the brain? When people become drug dependent it is because the reward circuits in the brain have been altered. Neurotransmitter glutamate impacts the reward system and the brain’s ability to learn. When glutamate levels are manipulated, the brain wants to make an adjustment and this can effect it’s ability to learn.
Cognitive function is lessened by drugs of abuse, which cause a decline in unconscious learning. This unconscious learning, such as the need to eat when we are hungry, is why people have such strong cravings for the drug. These cravings may be triggered by seeing somebody they know, or being in a familiar place. If you see a McDonald’s do you feel hungry? That “craving” is magnified dramatically in a drug-altered brain.
Drug addicted people experience diminished ability to learn, make decisions, formulate proper judgments, and have less ability to control their behavior.
Why do some people become addicted and others do not? You cannot point to any one thing that determines why someone becomes addicted. A person’s biology may explain why one person gets hooked right away and another can abuse drugs, yet not develop dependence. This genetic component to drug abuse and addiction is strong, because if a person’s parents abuse drugs, they have a higher chance of repeating that family behavior.
Environment is important, especially as it relates to the person’s sense of well-being. Drugs are an escape from reality. A person’s psychological makeup is a contributing factor, as self esteem plays a role. Do the drugs make a person feel better about themselves, if only for a short period of time? Does a person suffer from any mental disorder, like depression? Their age is a factor.
The earlier a child experiences drugs and alcohol, the more likely they are to develop addiction disease. The child’s brain is still developing and decision making functions of the brain have not reached their full capacity. Young people are especially vulnerable.
How can people avoid becoming addicted? It’s too easy just to say “Say no,” but the real answer to avoiding addiction is not to use. The National Institute on Drug Abuse has done research that shows the value of prevention programs. Education is the key. People, young and old, need to understand that there is risk, danger involved with taking illegal drugs, drinking, or abusing prescription medications. If someone believes a drug is harmful, they are not as likely to take it. People need to understand the risk.
If I do become addicted, is there hope? Yes. The advance in treatment options has given new hope, new alternatives and new motivation to thousands of addicts. The availability of treatment in this country is ample. People can call a local hospital, treatment center, or their own doctor to get information. Moreover, there are support groups in every community to assist in helping a person through the recovery process.
Can I be cured of drug addiction? The short answer is no. However, like diabetes, heart disease and other chronic diseases, drug addiction can be managed.
Drug Addiction Statistics: Questions beyond the personal
I am only hurting myself, so why are you concerned about my drug habit? In America today, drug abuse and addiction cost taxpayers over $180 billion each year. This includes all of the healthcare, criminal justice and loss of productivity in the workplace. Another $165 plus billion is spent on tobacco-related disease. More than $185 billion is spent on alcoholism.
That is half a trillion dollars!
Drug abuse and drug addiction are community diseases, because everybody is impacted, including but not limited to public health programs, failure in schools, crime, violence, child abuse, domestic violence and loss of productivity.
Drug use and addiction is linked to at least half of the major crimes in this country, as at least half of the suspects arrested for violent crimes, such as homicide and assault, were under the influence of drugs when they were arrested. Nearly two-thirds of people in drug abuse treatment report that they were physically or sexually abused as children.
Child abuse is a major contributing factor to drug addiction. Just visit a local hospital emergency department and witness the staggering numbers of people who walk up looking for drugs. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, approximately 10 to 22 percent of car crashes involved drivers who have been using drugs.
Summary of Drug Addiction Statistics:
Drug Addiction Statistics point to the fact the prescription drug addiction is clearly on the rise.
Drug Addiction Statistics include an increase in heroin overdoes as a result of significant increases in opiate addiction.
Drug Addiction Statistics don't always include alcohol addiction even though alcohol is one of the most abused drug of all.
Drug Addiction Statistics take in to account that addiction is a disease of the brain and that changes in brain chemistry account for many of the problems of addiction.
Drug Addiction Statistics are often gathered at the ER but exclude alcohol because it is SO pervasive.
Drug Addiction Statistics show have expensive and harmful drugs are to the individual, family, community and culture in general.
Drug Addiction Statistics can be useful to help determine the best use of research resources.