methamphetamine and depression withdrawal

Why is Drug Abuse so Common in the United States?

Despite advances in medicine, treatment, and anti-drug campaigns, drug abuse is on the rise in the United States. According to a study conducted by the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics (NCDAS), 11.7% of the U.S. population actively ingested drugs in 2018. While a rate of 11.7% may seem low, it represents around 32 million Americans, which is about 4 times as many people that live in New York City, the United States’ most populated city. But, what is making drug abuse so common in the U.S.? To answer that question, one must understand which populations are more likely to abuse drugs and why.

Who is Abusing Drugs? 

Drug abuse is not unique to one or a few types of people. People from all demographics and walks of life often abuse and develop a drug addiction. However, research does show that there are certain groups that are more prone to drug addiction and drug abuse. These groups include:

College Students 

According to research from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 22.2% of full-time college students reported using an illicit drug in the past month. The drugs they reported using ranged but included marijuana, cocaine, hallucinogens, heroin, and inhalants. The authors of the study attributed this high rate of drug abuse to the party atmosphere found on most U.S. college campuses. This environment puts college students at a greater risk for drug abuse and drug addiction. 


Unfortunately, women are also more likely to abuse drugs and develop addictions to opioids, cannabis, and stimulants. This fact was confirmed by a study conducted by Dr. Shelly F. Greenfield from the Harvard Medical School. In her study, Dr. Greenfield concluded that the higher rates for mood and anxiety disorders in women as well as higher reported rates of stress made women more likely to abuse drugs. 

Baby Boomers

Back in 2009, representatives from the U.S. Substance and Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration examined drug abuse statistics from 2002-2006 about the Baby Boomer generation. In their study, they found that the Baby Boomer generation had one of the highest drug abuse rates. During 2002-2006, around 2.8 million Baby Boomers were living with drug addiction. These experts also predicted that this number would double by 2020; however, this prediction has not been confirmed as of yet.   

Although they are not the only drug users in the country, women, college students, and baby boomers make up a significant portion of the United States population. Because these populations are more likely to abuse drugs and make up a sizable portion of the population, it begins to explain why drug abuse is so common in the U.S. However, finding out who is abusing drugs is only one part of the equation.   

Common Reasons for Drug Abuse

To further understand why drug abuse is so common in the United States, one must also understand why a person chooses to ingest drugs in the first place. There are several factors that contribute to this; some of the most common reasons for drug abuse include:  

Changing Cultural Views

Despite the potential dangers drugs and drug addictions can have on the human body, societal and cultural views on drug use are changing. Whether it’s in movies or on social media, more and more people are showing and accepting certain kinds of drug use. In doing so, the overall U.S. population begins to change its cultural view on drug use and drug abuse — at least to a certain extent.  


While many dangerous drugs like cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine are illegal, other drugs like marijuana and psychedelics have become legalized or decriminalized in cities, counties, and states across the U.S. The legalization of drugs often allows them to be more accessible — since they can be purchased legally. This inevitably contributes to certain kinds of drug use and abuse being more common in the United States.

Stress and Other Mental Health Issues

One of the leading factors in drug abuse is stress and mental health. Oftentimes, an individual will become addicted to a drug because of the dopamine release most drugs cause. Once dopamine is released in the brain, a person will feel pleasure, which temporarily eliminates negative feelings and stress.  

The Opioid Epidemic 

The United States as well as many other countries around the world is currently dealing with an opioid epidemic. Opioids in any form are highly addictive substances and are often prescribed to those with chronic pain. Unfortunately, it is too easy to abuse opioids, so many organizations around the world are working to address it.  

Looking for Drug Rehab in North Carolina?

Understanding why drug abuse is so common in the United States is no simple task. All of the research, studies, and statistics can begin to paint a picture, but they have not given a definitive answer. However, some potential answers stem from the fact that major portions of the U.S. population are more likely to abuse drugs and that there are a number of common reasons why people in the U.S. abuse drugs.  

If you or a loved one are currently living with substance addiction, treatment is the best course of action. At Oasis Recovery, our team of addiction specialists can help those in North Carolina begin a life of sobriety. Contact us today for more information on treatment plans for a variety of addictions!

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