Substance abuse as a sensitive topic for many, both those experiencing it themselves and for those who have been impacted by it in the people they know and love.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration national helpline can be contacted at 1-800-662-HELP (1-800-662-4357). This treatment referral and information service is confidential, free, and available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year in English and Spanish. It’s for individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders.
We’ll be doing our best here to cover some of the top issues surrounding substance abuse. We’ll also be donating to The Herren Project, an organization that provides free resources and support for the treatment, recovery and prevention of substance use disorder.
You can read our previous social impact articles on other topics if you’d like to learn about more ways to help others.
Substance Abuse Statistics
When we start to dig into the numbers on substance abuse, we’ll quickly find that things can get a little muddled. A person having a few alcoholic drinks a month isn’t generally going to meet the criteria for alcohol abuse. Similarly, a person taking a strong pain killer following a surgery isn’t generally considered to be abusing opioids. And, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a person who uses other drugs a single time isn’t going to automatically fall into the category of substance abuse.
This can make looking at the numbers a bit more difficult, but researchers into substance abuse have worked hard to gather statistics that offer us greater insight into the situation, imperfect though they may be.
In terms of drug use generally, we can see that men are around 5% more likely to use illegal substances compared to women. Those living in cities are four times as likely to use illegal substances compared to those living rurally. It’s also higher for those under 30, and even higher under 25. Those whose first substance use is under the age of 13 are much more likely to go on to develop a substance use disorder compared to people whose first use is after the age of 17.
We wanted to touch specifically on opioid abuse, especially since it’s a problem affecting so many lives today. Over 10 million Americans say they’ve misused opioids in the last year, 1.6 million qualify as having an opioid use disorder and 75,000 died from an opioid overdose. This is not to necessarily say that there isn’t a place for prescribed opioid pain relievers, but it’s important to acknowledge that there’s been an unfortunate trend in the US that’s taken many lives.
In 2018, over half of Americans got their illegally obtained pain medication from a friend or relative. Nearly half of people in the US also report having a friend of relative that they know struggles with substance abuse of some kind. Both those with substance use disorder as well as the people who love them experience any number of difficulties, hopes and setbacks.
We’re skipping past many other forms of substance abuse, but we really wanted to touch upon a completely legal form of it–alcohol. Nearly 15 million people in the US have a problem with alcohol and nearly 100,000 die from it annually. Around 10 percent of kids live with at least one parent that struggles with alcohol.
There is some good news, however. Alcohol use in general has dramatically fallen for kids in the past few years. Given that substance abuse later in life tends to increase the younger a person starts drinking, this is great news for the next generation.
Substance Abuse & How to Help
Substance abuse is a difficult issue, and many will say it’s a lifelong one. What help looks like can take many forms, though. Treatment options can include therapy, medications, programs and more. For those on the other side of the equation, it may be a good idea to keep tabs on your own mental health, boundaries and personal well-being.