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Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center

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Alcohol and Drug Problems - Topic Overview

Some groups of people are more likely than others to have problems related to alcohol or drug abuse. These groups include:

  • Teenagers and young adults. Approximately one-half of all high school seniors in the U.S. admit to having used alcohol or an illegal drug. Substance abuse in this age group increases the risk of involvement in crime, high-risk sexual behavior, accidents, and injuries. Teens that use alcohol and drugs are more likely to have poor school performance and have higher dropout rates. For more information, see the topic Teen Alcohol and Drug Abuse.
  • Women.
    • Although women are less likely than men to abuse alcohol, they are more likely to have alcohol-related health problems, such as liver disease.
    • Women are more likely to have problems with prescription medicines. More than two-thirds of all tranquilizers are prescribed for women. Tranquilizers, sedatives, pain medicines, and amphetamines are abused most often by women.
    • Alcohol and drug abuse in women increases the risk of developing other health problems, such as osteoporosis or depression.
    • Women who abuse alcohol and drugs attempt suicide four times more frequently than nonabusers.
  • Adults older than age 65. Drug abuse in this age group is a problem because of the high number of prescription medicines and the lack of coordination between doctors. Signs of alcohol or drug abuse may be mistaken for other disease problems or simply overlooked as a symptom of "aging." Many older adults "self-medicate" with alcohol to help relieve sleep problems, depression, and other problems. Alcohol abuse is more common than drug abuse in older adults. Alcohol contributes to car crashes and other types of severe injury in this group of people. For more information, see the topic Substance Abuse in Older Adults.
  • Low-income populations. Drug and alcohol abuse is a problem for many minorities, including disabled adults, the homeless, and minority populations.
  • Babies.Drug and alcohol use during pregnancy can cause birth defects and increase the risk of infant death. Babies are more likely to have learning disabilities and social and behavioral problems when their mothers use alcohol or drugs during pregnancy. Babies with mothers who use alcohol are at risk for problems from fetal alcohol syndrome.
  • Children. Studies show that children who are exposed to drug abuse in the home, especially methamphetamine, have higher rates of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, anger, and alcohol and drug abuse. They also are more likely to have learning problems and do poorly in school.

Alcohol is part of many people's lives and may have a place in cultural and family traditions. It can sometimes be hard to know when you begin to drink too much.

There is a strong connection between the use of drugs and alcohol and high-risk sexual behaviors. This increases a person's chance of getting sexually transmitted infections (STIs), hepatitis B, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

If you think you might have a drinking or drug problem, take a short quiz to evaluate your symptoms:

Interactive Tool: Do You Have a Drinking Problem?
Assess Your Drug Use(What is a PDF document?)

Check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: November 14, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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