The Changing Face of 21st Century Drug Addiction

by Beth Davis

Drug addiction in the U.S. has changed dramatically over the past 20 years. The people who become substance abusers, and the type of drugs they use, are markedly different than those of the previous generation. Here are some evolutions in drug addiction that professionals, like doctors and social workers, must now deal with in increasingly complex ways.

Drug Use Demographics

Those who misuse prescription drugs or who use street drugs for recreational purposes have increased at both ends of the age spectrum. More teens are involved with substance abuse, and older adults in midlife and beyond are also developing drug addiction issues. It is not uncommon for a middle-class parent of three children who holds a responsible job in public to use or abuse drugs privately at home or with friends. Drug addiction is on the rise, affecting people in every age bracket, representing the changing face of addiction as we know it.


With the alarming rise in substance abuse statistics and overdose reports, rehab programs are springing up in communities with especially high addiction rates. People who are addicted to various substances can be admitted to specialty recovery centers that offer detox, individualized treatment programs, and aftercare. Many choose to check into a prescription drug rehab center to kick their addiction to legally prescribed medications. Though intended for pain management, these medicines can be lethal when misused or taken for the wrong purposes.

Socio-Economic Addiction Levels

Drug addiction is crossing socio-economic boundaries. Previously, the vast majority of addiction cases involved lower-income individuals. Alternately, the very wealthy could afford a lifestyle of drug use as well as hire others to handle their responsibilities if they became too addicted to do so. Now, however, middle-class people are increasingly using drugs to self-medicate or to have fun. Unfortunately, this casual use can lead to serious or even life-threatening problems down the road.

Range of Substance Addictions

The type of drugs and substances being used that lead to addiction has changed. Addiction experts have noted heroin use on the rise, resulting in thousands of overdose emergencies each year, along with many deaths. Opioid addiction stems from doctors over-prescribing painkillers for patients with legitimate needs from surgery or pain illnesses like cancer that then led to addiction or drug trafficking. Teens and other users have gotten creative with drug and alcohol use, especially on a recreational level, by infusing treats like gummy bears or mints with their drugs of choice. Addictive substances are now smoked, inhaled, injected, worn as a skin patch, or inserted to various body orifices to get a quick high.

Drug addiction is a frightening reality of our times. More people are using more types of drugs more frequently than ever before. Addiction rehab starts with a detox cleanse and proceeds to individual treatment in a recovery program that requires admission for several days or weeks. These programs often include personal therapy, dual assessment for underlying mental health issues, peer group therapy, mentorships, and support groups. Through these efforts, people addicted to drugs and other substances can be helped by professionals to escape an addiction-based lifestyle and learn how to live without drug dependency.

Comments for The Changing Face of 21st Century Drug Addiction

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Research and Make Calls
by: Ned Wicker

Dear Cassie,

You ask an interesting question and a very good one. Thank you. Families so often think that the alcoholism and drug addiction are the sole problem of the one with the disease, but that certainly isn’t the case.

There are a lot of self-help resources out there, such as “Getting Them Sober,” by Toby Rice-Drew, or “Why Don’t They Just Quit?,” by Joe Herzanek. Both books are examples of works that help families cope with the disease. Treatment facilities will often offer programs for family members, or will make recommendations on where families can enter family therapy. I would focus on the treatment facilities, make some calls and ask your questions.

Another resource for families is the church. Many offer alcohol and drug addiction recovery classes, and even if someone doesn’t belong to a particular denomination, or even for that matter ascribe to a specific faith tradition, the emotional support and information is well worth it.

Celebrate Recovery is a program being offered at churches around the US for addicts and their families. It's an excellent program and many people have been and are being helped by it.

Locally, look through listings on family therapy agencies and see if there is one that deals with substance abuse issues. You can also call your local hospital/doctor and they are very likely to know good programs available in your area.

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