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Drug & Alcohol Addiction

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Drug Abuse in the United States

Substance Abuse in America

Addiction is a mental health disorder that touches and adversely impacts the lives of millions of Americans and their families each year. Whether an addiction to alcohol, cocaine, opioids, or any other substance, addiction kills thousands across the nation each year.

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Drug & Alcohol Addiction in America

The Facts About Substance Abuse

In the last couple of decades, how society views addiction has changed significantly. Historically, addiction was considered a choice. It was believed those who struggled with addiction chose to use or drink. Ongoing use was not considered an illness but voluntary. Addicts were stigmatized, and seeking treatment was often not an option for many reasons, including fear and embarrassment. Fortunately, addiction is now diagnosed as a mental illness for which treatment is encouraged by medical and mental health professionals alike. Addiction is a disease. It is a complex illness that affects the brain resulting in the compulsive need to use or dink despite any potential negative consequences. Those who struggle with addiction feel such a compelling and overwhelming urge to use that alcohol or drugs often consume their lives. 

The statistics on addiction in American show that addiction can and does affect anyone. A few of the most compelling statistics are below:

  • Today nearly 21 million Americans have at least one addiction. Of those, less than ten percent will ever seek or receive addiction treatment. 
  • Each year, just under 100,000 people die from complications, illnesses, or accidents related to alcohol use. 
  • In 2017, approximately 48,000 people died from opioid overdose and an additional 15,000 from heroin overdose. 
  • In 2017, cocaine was responsible for one out of every five overdose deaths. 
  • More than 90% of those who have an addiction began to drink or use drugs before the age of 18. 

The instance of substance use, including alcohol, opioids, benzodiazepines, and amphetamines, have been steadily rising over the last decade.

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Commonly Abused Drugs

Which Drugs are the Most Addictive?

Addictive drugs affect the portions of the brain that control pleasure—using results in a quick way to stimulate the brain’s reward centers. The addictive qualities of various drugs may be enhanced by how good they make someone feel when they are using and, conversely, how bad they feel when they wear off. Some of the most addictive drugs are:


Cocaine is a stimulant drug that is naturally derived from the coca plant. It is illegally manufactured into either a white powder or rock form (also known as crack cocaine. Cocaine can be taken into the body in several ways, including snorting, smoking, injecting, or smoking. Using cocaine is an intense high due to dopamine (the neurotransmitter responsible for pleasure) flooding the brain. The effects of cocaine come on quickly and are very intense but also short-lived. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimates approximately one million adults in the United States struggle with cocaine addiction. Cocaine is considered an illegal drug that is highly addictive.


Heroin activates the opioid receptors in the brain, blocking out feelings of pain while increasing relaxation. For many, heroin produces an “out of body” sensation. It also induces feelings of euphoria by creating excess dopamine in the brain. In the last decade, the federal government has enacted stricter controls on prescribed opioid medication such as OxyContin and Percocet. Consequently, many who used to abuse prescription medications turned to illicit opioids like heroin. Heroin is also highly addictive. It is estimated that nearly one-quarter of those who try heroin will become addicted. The effects heroin produces on the brain can result in rapid addiction and intense withdrawal symptoms when someone tries to stop using. In 2018, nearly 15,000 people lost their lives to heroin overdose.


In the United States, approximately one out of every twelve adults struggle with an alcohol use disorder. Alcohol remains the most regularly abused addictive substance in America. Like other drugs, alcohol alters dopamine levels in the brain resulting in enhanced mood. However, it also works on the nervous system, depressing activity resulting in lowered heart rate and blood pressure. When someone consumes alcohol frequently, they eventually build up a tolerance to it, requiring more and more to feel the same effects. Someone with a severe addiction to alcohol requires detox and medical supervision to get sober safely.


Methamphetamine or “meth” is a highly addictive stimulant that acts on the central nervous system (the brain). In 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report nearly two million US adults reported using meth in the last year. Of those, almost 53% had a methamphetamine use disorder, meaning they reported a clinically significant impairment, including health problems, disability, and failure or inability to meet responsibilities at work or school.  In 2017, 1.6 million reported using it in the last year. From the first use, methamphetamine affects the brain’s reward centers and changes how the brain perceives pleasure. If left untreated, addiction to meth is dangerous and potentially fatal. In 2018 the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported over 12,500 people died due to methamphetamine overdose. Further, the same report shows that as many as 90% of stimulant drug-related deaths involve meth.

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How to Know When Someone Needs Help

Drug & Alcohol Addiction Statistics

Unfortunately, addiction statistics are not always accurately represented. As most drugs remain illegal to use, buy, or sell, it is understandable that those who struggle daily with addiction are unlikely to openly report using unless they are seeking treatment. Today, the rate of use among the Baby Boomer generation (those aged 56-76) is rising, although the most prevalent users are those between the ages of 18 and 25. In 2017 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported approximately four percent, or just under one million, of the adolescent population (between ages 12 and 17) had a substance use disorder. The same data showed more than five million young adults, about one in seven, struggled with addiction. Regardless of the type of drug, men remain more likely to use than women. This remains true across all demographics and substance types. However, despite being less likely to use (or less likely to report using), women are more likely to become addicted when they do use. 

The highest rates of substance use are reported among the American Indian and Alaska Native populations. In this demographic, the addiction rate is about 13%. Asian Americans have the lowest reported addiction rate at closer to 4%. Addiction rates among young adults are generally highest in the Northeastern United States, specifically in large metropolitan and urban centers (as high as 28%). In 2019, over 21 million Americans over the age of 12 needed treatment for a substance use disorder or addiction. Unfortunately, only about four million people received it. Addiction is a chronic disease, yet highly treatable and recovery is attainable with proper therapy. When early intervention is possible, the chances of achieving sobriety and long-term recovery increase exponentially. Personalized treatment programs and specialized addiction rehab are also vital components of successful recovery.

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Find Your Path to Lasting Addiction Recovery

The impacts of drug abuse vary from person to person. For this reason, selecting an addiction treatment program that provides specialized therapy tailored to your unique needs is essential to a successful recovery. Today there are thousands of treatment programs across the United States providing specialized addiction care. It can be challenging to research each program on your own to determine which one offers the type, duration, and format of treatment that will work best for you. At My Recovery, we can help you sort through all of the potential options. We have researched specialized addiction rehabs across America and developed relationships with the best rehabs in every state. Our communication with each of these renowned treatment centers allows our advisors to better guide you towards the program that can best help you succeed in reaching your treatment goals. If you are ready to seek drug addiction treatment but are not sure where to start, reach out to My Recovery today. Addiction can take control of your life, and quitting on your own can feel impossible. My Recovery will help you find a specialized treatment center where your treatment plan is designed around your goals and needs. Addiction is not created equally, and therefore addiction treatment should not be the same for each person. Your needs are unique, and it is essential to find a program where those needs are met. Let My Recovery help you take the first steps on your journey to a life without addiction.

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