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SAMHSA Confirms "Garbagehead" Trend

Over a third of people who seek addiction treatment do so for poly-substance-abuse, new data shows.


Booze + drugs now account for 37%
of treatment admissions. Photo via

By Hunter R. Slaton


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A report released today by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) confirms a troubling trend in addiction treatment, identified in The Fix’s data-driven “State of the Rehab Union” story from last week: namely, the rise of poly-substance abuse, which sees people checking into rehab hooked on some combo of alcohol and other drugs. According to SAMHSA’s report, more than 37% of people who enroll in treatment do so because of a problem with more than one chemical. Twenty-three percent of admissions are for drinking plus one other drug, while 14% report being addicted to alcohol and two or more other substances. That’s bad news, says SAMHSA Administrator Pamela Hyde, because, “Even by themselves, alcohol and drug abuse can be devastating to one’s health and well-being, but a combination of drug and alcohol abuse increases one’s risk of serious, life-threatening consequences even more.”

Here's a slide from SAMHSA's report:

The Fix’s original research revealed that 17% of those who go to treatment struggle with more than one substance. Susan Foster, MSW, VP and director of policy research and analysis for CASAColumbia, The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, told us that her outfit’s data pointed to an even higher incidence of poly-substance abuse: nearly 56%. Some of the differences in data are likely due to differences in methodology, but the overall takeaway remains the same, which is that the problem of being cross-addicted to a number of different substances (being a “garbagehead,” in the parlance of some 12-step meetings) is growing. Austin Recovery's president and CEO Jonathan Ross says of this trend, “I want to say it’s been evolving for 20 years, but especially in the last five to 10. I think even 10 years ago there was maybe more a single drug of choice.”

Check out this chart from The Fix about what substances and issues led people to seek treatment:what led respondents to seek rehab

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