10 Facts About Substance Abuse & Addiction In The United States

February 4, 2021
Better Tomorrow Treatment Center

Substance abuse in the United States has been widespread for hundreds of years, and it has been a public health issue for many decades as more and more Americans struggle with the disease of addiction (though it was not always thought of as a disease). Different substances have been the focus of the government and public health campaigns in different time periods - alcohol, cocaine, opioids, and more - and as the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage, coming up on its one year mark, it is difficult to determine what the focus will be next. COVID-19 had (and is still continuing to have) devastating effects on the state of substance abuse and addiction in the United States.


Addiction is isolating already; the pandemic has left people isolated from human contact and physical connection, which can be dangerous for people who struggle with addiction at any stage, even if they have already been through treatment. Addiction is also a coping mechanism; the pandemic has created anxiety and distress for many people, increasing the need to escape. 2020 was definitely the worst year for substance abuse thus far. Between May 2019 and May 2020, the C.D.C. reported that 81,230 people died of drug overdoses, the largest number ever recorded in a year. Overdose-related cardiac arrests in April 2020 made up 74 of every 100,000 emergency calls nationwide, which is 20% higher than usual.


The more the public knows about the consequences and dangers of substance abuse, the less likely people are to experiment with substances and get addicted, and more people who are already struggling will be willing to seek treatment. Because Better Tomorrow Treatment Center believes that knowledge is one of the best ways for our nation to combat addiction, here are 10 facts about substance abuse and addiction in the United States that everyone should know!


  1. At least half of a person’s susceptibility to drug addiction can be linked to genetic factors.


Research has shown that, in general, 50% of a person’s propensity to addiction can be explained by studying their genetics. That’s not the whole story, of course - environment, lifestyle, and childhood trauma all play a role (the other 50%). And there is no single “addictive gene”. But genetics do matter. For example, brain imaging suggests that people with fewer D2 receptors (a certain type of dopamine receptor) are more likely to become addicted than those with many of the receptors, a fact that is partially genetically determined. One interesting study also suggested that genetics also account for a person’s inclination to begin using substances, their ability to quit, and what treatment will work best for them in the long term.



  1. Nearly 17 million adults in the United States suffer from alcoholism.


Sadly, an estimated 95,000 of them die every single year in the United States due to alcoholism (68,000 men and 27,000 women). This makes alcoholism the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States.


  1. Long-term benzodiazepine users have an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.


One Harvard-related study found that taking the drug for three to six months raised the risk of developing Alzheimer’s by 32%, and taking it for more than six months raised the risk by 84%. Benzodiazepines are highly addictive drugs and have many other physical and mental consequences as well.


  1. Drug abuse led to about 2.5 million ER visits in 2011.


While many of these visits were overdose related, abusing drugs leads to impairment in decision-making. That can lead to a variety of negative consequences, such as driving under the influence and being involved in a serious accident, mixing substances that should not be mixed and overdosing, engaging in physical fights and sustaining injuries, and more.


  1. The use of alcohol and drugs is the leading factor in youth crime and the leading factor in youth suicides.


Because their brains are still developing, alcohol and drugs are particularly dangerous for young people. Substance abuse in teens is also an indicator of addiction later in life; youths who begin drinking before the age of 15 are 5 times more likely to become dependent on alcohol than those who wait until they are 21.


  1. In 2015, it was estimated that the federal government spent $9.2 million dollars per day to combat drugs.


The government spends so much money and resources fighting substance abuse that it is often called “The War on Drugs” (first called that by President Nixon in 1971). While there is much debate about the criminalization of drug abuse and the correct approach to treating addiction, there is no debate about the negative consequences of addiction on individuals and on society.


  1. In 1864, the New York State Inebriate Asylum became the first hospital to treat alcoholism solely as a mental health condition.



Benjamin Rush, one of America’s founding fathers, was one of the first to believe that alcoholism wasn’t a matter of personal willpower or moral failing but caused by the alcohol itself, but it wasn’t until nearly one hundred years later that the public began to accept that viewpoint that the first hospital to treat alcoholism like a disease was founded and more community groups and sober houses began appearing.


  1. Addiction physically changes your brain.


The reason addiction is so dangerous is mostly neurological. The front of your brain houses the reward center, and it is stimulated electrically by dopamine. It’s the reason  you eat when you are hungry, stop when you are full, and why there is a physical and mental pleasure in eating. Drugs and alcohol replicate this pleasure by giving the reward center of your brain more dopamine than occurs naturally. Over time, with repeated use, the effect of the dopamine diminishes, and your brain needs more to give you the same pleasurable sensation. Eventually, the reward system will stop functioning, and your nervous system will be too flooded with the substance to control your impulses. The need for pleasure increases, the willpower decreases, and it’s a terrible combination with disastrous consequences. Even using dangerous substances once (like cocaine or meth) can have lifelong impacts on your brain.


  1. While Americans make up just 5% of the global population, U.S. citizens consume 80% of the world’s supply of prescription pills.


Painkillers are alarmingly easy to get in the United States. In most other countries, doctors do not prescribe them as frequently, but in America you can even buy them online without doctor supervision. There are many reasons for why the U.S. has so many opioids and painkillers. Perhaps in America, people experience less adversity and are less able to cope with pain, so the demand for pain relievers is higher. Healthcare is more accessible than in poorer countries, so people who do have an abuse disorder are able to “doctor shop” and find more prescriptions. Pharmaceutical companies pay physicians to prescribe their medications, even if there are dangerous side effects, and downplay the addiction risks to physicians and in their own marketing. Whatever the reasons, this is a dangerous trend.


  1. Only about 11% of those addicted to drugs or alcohol in 2009 actually received treatment for their substance abuse disorder (nearly 20 million people went untreated).


Those who don’t get help with their addictions are at risk for developing a mental health disorder, damaging their body physically, and dying. Treatment is available, even during a pandemic, and federal law requires insurance providers to cover the costs (but if you don’t have insurance, you still have options as well).


Better Tomorrow Treatment Center in West Palm Beach, Florida, is one of the state’s leading addiction treatment centers. We take a holistic approach to substance abuse disorders and are passionate about helping people find healing and freedom from addiction. Call our compassionate staff today for free to speak with us about our recovery programs and discover if we are the right fit for you!