Survey Reveals How Many U.S. Adults Have Had Drug Use Disorder

Survey Reveals How Many U.S. Adults Have Had Drug Use Disorder

By John Lavitt 11/20/15

A significant number of Americans have suffered from drug abuse disorder at some point in their lives.

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In a survey of American adults funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), researchers found that drug use is common, but treatment is rare.

The survey revealed that 10% of adults in the United States experience a drug use disorder at some point in their lives. Usually co-occurring with a mental health disorder, the drug use disorder goes untreated over 75% of the time. The study also found that about 4% of Americans met the criteria for drug use disorder in the past year.

“Based on these findings, more than 23 million adults in the United States have struggled with problematic drug use,” said Dr. George Koob, NIAAA director. “Given these numbers, and other recent findings about the prevalence and under-treatment of alcohol use disorder in the U.S., it is vitally important that we continue our efforts to understand the underlying causes of drug and alcohol addiction, their relationship to other psychiatric conditions and the most effective forms of treatment.”

Dr. Bridget Grant of the NIAAA Laboratory of Epidemiology and Biometry conducted the NESARC study, which appears online in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Using DSM-5 criteria, more than 36,000 people were evaluated using face-to-face interviews. The interviews revealed that drug use disorder was more common among white men and Native Americans. Being single or no longer married also raises the risk level. Age, finances, and education also play a role. Younger individuals, as well as those with lower income and education levels, were at even greater risk.

Regional differences show that people living in the 13 Western-most states in the country, including Alaska and Hawaii, were more likely to go through a drug use disorder. From a psychiatric perspective, the study showed individuals with drug use disorder in the past year were 1.3 times as likely to experience clinical depression, 1.6 times as likely to have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and 1.8 times as likely to have borderline personality disorder.

The majority of people never receive any form of treatment. Nearly 14% of people who had drug use disorder in the past year—and 25% of people who have ever had a drug use disorder—went on to receive care. Less than one-third of those with severe lifetime drug use disorder ever receive any form of treatment. Such low treatment rates may reflect skepticism about the effectiveness of treatment insufficient resources. Lack of knowledge among healthcare providers and barriers related to stigma are also key factors.

"The prevalence and complexity of drug use disorders revealed in this study coupled with the lack of treatment speak to the urgent need for healthcare professionals to be trained in proper techniques to identify, assess, diagnose, and treat substance use disorders among patients in their practice," said Dr. Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles with his beautiful wife, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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