Poll: Americans See Alcohol as a Bigger Problem Than Heroin, Meth

By Victoria Kim 03/31/16

The poll results are not totally surprising—alcohol is legal, accessible, and takes the lives of nearly 90,000 people a year.

Poll: Americans See Alcohol as a Bigger Problem Than Heroin, Meth,
photo via Shutterstock

More Americans see alcohol use as a serious problem than opioid abuse, meth, or any other drug.

In a national survey conducted by AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, 76% of respondents reported alcohol as being a serious problem in their communities, compared with 67% for painkillers and 53% for heroin.

The poll, released last week, surveyed Americans on attitudes toward substance use and treatment in the U.S. It surveyed 1,042 adults—50% who were from a suburban area and 65% who were white—across the U.S. in February.

The numbers are not totally surprising; alcohol is legal after all, making it more accessible across the country, fueled by aggressive advertising. But the fact that alcohol is considered separate from illicit drugs like heroin, meth, cocaine and even marijuana doesn’t make much sense from a scientific standpoint, Christopher Ingraham noted on the Wonkblog in a recent post. “The abuse of alcohol and other drugs often go hand in hand.”

Nearly 90,000 people die of alcohol-related causes annually, making it second only to tobacco on the list of America’s deadliest drugs, wrote Ingraham.  

The survey revealed the public’s perception on other key issues as well.

A majority of Americans (62%) said at least one type of substance use is a serious problem in their communities; 43% reported having a close friend or relative with substance abuse issues.

There is strong public support for improving and expanding addiction treatment, but seven out of 10 respondents said their communities are not doing enough to improve treatment programs or to make them more affordable and accessible.

Regarding America’s opioid problem, the survey found that 66% of the public said that at least some doctors regularly prescribe painkillers more than is necessary. And of those respondents, 57% believe it’s a minor cause contributing to painkiller dependence and overdoses, while 32% believe it’s a major cause.

Naloxone was another subject respondents were polled on. Nearly half (42%) said the drug, an antidote which reverses the effects of an opioid overdose, should be available without a prescription, while a majority (57%) said it should only be allowed with a prescription.

Unsurprisingly, a majority (61%) of the public showed support for marijuana legalization, though most of them preferred legalization with limitations, such as allowing it only for medical use. Only a third expressed support for legalization with no restrictions.

This survey was conducted during a time of transition when both the federal and local governments have been pushing legislation and policies aimed at alleviating the drug abuse epidemic. How different would the survey responses be in a year's time? Will the public be satisfied with the government's efforts to curb drug abuse? Or will the problem get worse? 

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr