Where In the US are People Drinking and Doing the Most Drugs?

By May Wilkerson 06/16/16

Multiple factors might impact drug and alcohol use in various parts of the country, such as state laws, race, local traditions, religious norms and industry regulations.

Where In the US are People Drinking and Doing the Most Drugs?

Americans do a lot of drugs and drink a lot of booze. And, just like food preferences, accents, and political affiliations vary from one part of the country to the next, which drugs we do also differs by our geographic location. Using recent federal data, the Washington Post compiled a map that illustrates which drugs, including alcohol, are most popular in which parts of the USA.

The data was collected by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which annually surveys Americans ages 12 and up about their use of marijuana, alcohol, cocaine, and opioid painkillers for non-medical purposes. Researchers then ranked states by the proportion of their population who use each substance, and created a “top 10 list” for all four substances.

There are multiple factors at play that might impact drug and alcohol use in various parts of the country, such as state laws, industry regulations, localized traditions, cultural and religious norms, and the racial, ethnic and economic breakdown of populations. The results may, or may not, surprise you.

The leading state in the country for all-around drug use? Colorado. The Mile-High State stands out as the only state which ranks as a top consumer of all four substances listed above. Given that marijuana was legalized there for recreational use in 2012, it’s no surprise that Coloradans love their weed. This is a trend: the other states with legal recreational pot—Washington, Alaska and Oregon—also ranked highly for weed consumption. But residents of Colorado are also heavy consumers of cocaine, alcohol and non-prescription use of prescription drugs.

Northern New England is also home to higher concentrations of heavy drug and alcohol use. But they may not be the drugs you expect. The media has focused on the opioid addiction crisis in this region of the country, but no New England state ranked highest for non-medical consumption of prescription painkillers. Instead, Vermont, Massachusetts and New Hampshire are in the lead for alcohol, marijuana and cocaine. New York, however, is a top consumer of cocaine, but not alcohol or weed.

There is also a concentration of heavy substance use in the nation's capital. Even though it’s surrounded by states with much lower drug usage, Washington, D.C. ranks among the nation’s top consumers of cocaine, alcohol and marijuana. What are those politicians up to?

In the Bible Belt and states in the Southeast, the use of substances, especially alcohol, is much lower. This is, perhaps, not a surprise, given the heavy influence of religion in this part of the country. But maybe the Bible doesn’t explicitly condone pills, because non-medical use of prescription painkillers is highly concentrated in Southern and Southeast states like Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, Virginia, Maryland and Ohio.

Illicit drug use is much lower in the Midwest and Plains states; however, this region seems to be doing more drinking. Wisconsin, Minnesota and North Dakota are all leading states for alcohol consumption. And in the west, California, Arizona and New Mexico have significantly high proportions of cocaine use. This is likely explained by their adjacency to Mexico, the source of much of the United States' cocaine supply.

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.