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Facts About Substance Abuse

The Human Cost of Substance Abuse

Deaths

One in four US deaths can be attributed to alcohol, tobacco, or illicit drug use.

Tobacco users run the biggest risk of harm, since the majority of those deaths—430,700 annually—are associated with smoking.

Excessive alcohol use is responsible for 100,000 deaths annually.

16,000 deaths annually are due to illicit drug use, but this estimate is likely to be conservative as substance abuse is indirectly associated with deaths from diseases such as HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, tuberculosis, homicides, and other violent crimes and incidental injuries.

Economic Consequences

The economic burden of substance abuse to the US economy is estimated at a staggering $414 billion annually. Alcohol abuse alone costs nearly $166 billion each year.

Illicit drug users make over 527,000 costly emergency room visits each year for drug related problems.

One dollar out of every $14 of the nation’s health care bill is spent to treat those suffering from smoking-related illnesses.

Health care costs for employees with alcohol abuse problems cost nearly twice as much as those of other employees.

Other Consequences

Drug offenders account for more than one-third of the growth in the state prison population and more than 80 percent of the increase in the number of federal prison inmates since 1985.

More than 75 percent of domestic violence victims report that their assailant had been drinking or using illicit drugs at the time of the incident.

Substance abuse tends to be more common among certain occupations and industries.

Heavy alcohol and illicit drug use is highest among construction and food service workers. Auto mechanics, laborers, and light-truck drivers are among several populations that are more susceptible to alcohol abuse.

Children from families with substance-abusing parents are more likely to have problems with delinquency, poor school performance, and emotional difficulties than their peers from homes without substance abuse.

Children whose parents smoke are more likely to develop ear infections and asthma and to miss one-third more school days than their peers who live in smoke-free homes.

Patterns of Use

By eighth grade, 52 percent of teenagers have consumed alcohol, 41 percent have smoked cigarettes, and 20 percent have used marijuana.

33 million Americans—29 percent of all current alcohol users—are binge drinkers, meaning they consume five or more drinks on a singe occasion.

Men are four times more likely to be heavy drinkers and 1.3 times more likely to smoke a pack of cigarettes or more a day. Men are also twice as likely to engage in regular marijuana use.

Heroin and cocaine account for about 70 percent of all drug cases.

Impact of Substance Abuse on Different Populations

Ethnic Minorities

Compared to the total population, alcohol-related motor vehicle fatality rates are particularly high for Native Americans.

African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and Alaskan Natives have higher death rates for cirrhosis of the liver relative to the total population.

Alcohol mortality rates are highest for African-American men, even though alcohol use tends to be more moderate for African Americans than for whites or Hispanics.

African Americans are more likely to report using illegal drugs on a weekly basis than any other ethnic group.

Hispanics are most likely to engage in heavy alcohol use, followed by whites and African Americans.

Among smokers, whites smoke more cigarettes per day than any other racial or ethnic group. They are also more likely to smoke on a daily basis.

Among high school seniors, 36 % of whites are heavy alcohol users compared to 29 % of Hispanics and 12 % of African Americans.
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Community

Reliable information about the size of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community is not available. However, available studies indicate that LGBT people are more likely to use alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drugs than the general population.(1)

The prevalence of tobacco use among gay men and lesbians is dramatically higher than among the general population. In a household-based survey, 41.5 percent of gay men were identified as smokers – compared with 26.6% of men in the general population. Two times as many lesbian women as heterosexual women smoke.(2)

Recent data suggest alcohol use among gay men and lesbians, which had been at alarmingly high rates, has declined over the last two decades. However, both heavy drinking and illicit drug use appear to be prevalent among young lesbians and gay males; gay men and lesbians of all ages report alcohol problems nearly twice as often as heterosexuals; and alcohol consumption rates do not seem to decrease with age, as they do in the heterosexual population.(2)

Few substance abuse studies have looked at bisexual and transgender individuals, so reliable data are not available.(2)

Senior Citizens

Surveys indicate that six to eleven percent of elderly patients admitted to hospitals exhibit symptoms of alcoholism as do 20 percent of elderly patients in psychiatric wards and 14 percent of elderly patients in emergency rooms.(3)

The prevalence of problem drinking in nursing homes is as high as 49 percent in some studies. Late onset alcohol problems also occur in some retirement communities, where drinking at social gatherings is often the norm.(4)

For American women age 60 and over, substance abuse and addiction to cigarettes, alcohol, and psychoactive prescription drugs are at epidemic levels. One report found that women over 59 are susceptible to abuse and addiction to these substances because they get addicted faster when using smaller amounts than any other group.(5)

1.8 million older women are addicted to or abuse alcohol; 2.8 million abuse or are addicted to psychoactive prescription drugs; and 4.4 million smoke cigarettes.(5)

Source: Substance Abuse: The Nation’s Number One Health Problem, Prepared by the Schneider Institute for Health Policy, Brandeis University for The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 2001, except:
1- Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Problems & LGBT Individuals, National Association of Lesbian and Gay Addiction Professionals Web Site (
www.nalgap.org), 2002
2- “Healthy People 2010” LGBT Health, Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA), 2001
3- Journal of the American Medical Association 275 (10): 797-801, 1996
4- Alcohol Alert #40, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), 1998
5- Under the Rug: Substance Abuse and the Mature Woman, The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, 1998

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Copyright 2004 The Johns Hopkins University. Baltimore, Maryland.
All rights reserved. Last Updated January 15, 2010
 

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