Who Uses and Abuses Drugs and Alcohol?

U.S. Government Survey Shows Patterns of Illicit Drug, Alcohol, and Tobacco Use

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Sept. 4, 2008 -- Are fewer Americans using illicit drugs? How many people are binge or heavy drinkers?

To answer those questions and more, a new federal government study takes a look at trends in drug, alcohol, and tobacco use across the nation.

The 2007 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings is being released by the Department of Health and Human Services.

The survey showa that people aged 18 to 25 are using less cocaine and methamphetamine, but they are using more prescription pain relievers recreationally compared to 2006.

Baby boomers aged 55 to 59 more than doubled their use of illicit drugs since 2002 (from 1.9% to 4.1%).

Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt says in a news release that the figures reflect a positive move overall, but that there's still work to be done. "These results confirm that progress has been made, particularly regarding substance abuse among younger Americans."

He adds, "The report also reminds us of the importance of our efforts to provide substance abuse treatment to those in need and to encourage health care professionals to identify people who are at risk for developing substance abuse problems and intervene early."

The survey was given to about 67,500 people aged 12 and older.

Here are some of the findings:

Drug Use

An estimated 8% of the people surveyed used an illicit drug in 2007, within the past month of when the survey was taken.

An "illicit" drug is described as marijuana, hashish, cocaine (including crack), heroin, hallucinogens, inhalants, and prescription drugs that are not used for medical purposes.

That figure is similar to 2006 (8.3%), down just a hair.

The figures for current illicit drug use among 12- to 17-year-olds was stable between 2006 and 2007. But when looked at between 2002 and 2007, this group's rates were generally down for illicit drugs.

  • Among 18- to 25-year-olds, the prescription drug abuse rate went up 12% from 2002 to 2007.
  • The rate of non-medical prescription painkiller use went up from 4.1% to 4.6% in 2007 for those aged 12 and older, and nearly 56% say they got it for free from a friend or relative. Eighteen percent reported that they got it from just one doctor.
  • Among those 12 and older, the most popular drug of choice in 2007 was marijuana, with nearly 6% of total respondents saying they used it. But when looking at just 12- to 17-year-olds, pot use was down from 8.2% in 2002 to 6.7% in 2007.
  • 0.8% of the population surveyed said they were current cocaine users.

Director of the National Drug Control Policy John Walters says in a news release that the markets for some illicit drugs are shrinking, but he offers a warning on prescription drug abuse.

"We must act quickly to increase awareness of the dangers of prescription drug abuse, decrease the illegal diversion of these products, and shore up safer practices for their prescription and distribution."


Big Drinkers

Slightly more than half of all people 12 and older surveyed said they are current drinkers.

That's similar to what was found in 2006.

  • 23% of those 12 and older said they binge drink. "Binge" drinking is defined as having five or more drinks in one sitting on at least one day in the past month.
  • 7% of respondents said they are heavy drinkers. "Heavy" drinking means binge drinking on at least five out of the past 30 days.

Among 18- to 25-year-olds:

  • 42% said they binge drink.
  • 15% reported they are heavy drinkers.

Among 12- to 17-year-olds:

  • 16% said they are current drinkers.
  • 10% said they are binge drinkers.
  • 2% reported they are heavy drinkers.

Who Drinks?

Among 12- to 20-year-olds, here is the breakdown among race of who say they use alcohol:

  • 32% of whites
  • 28% of American Indians or Alaska natives
  • 26% of people who describe themselves as two or more races
  • 25% of Hispanics
  • 18% of African-Americans
  • 17% of Asians
  • 56% of those 12- to 20-years-old said their last drink was in "somebody else's home."
  • 29% of the same population said they last had a drink in their own home.

Tobacco Use

Twenty-nine percent of people aged 12 and older reported that they used tobacco in the month before the survey was given.

  • 24% of respondents said they are current smokers.
  • 5% smoke cigars.
  • 3% chew tobacco or use snuff.

Sixteen percent of pregnant women ages 15 to 44 said they smoked cigarettes a month before the survey. That figure came from combining data from 2006 and 2007.

Twenty-eight percent of the same age group of women who were not pregnant said they were smokers.

WebMD Health News Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on September 04, 2008



2007 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings, Department of Health and Human Services.

News release, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

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