Substance Abuse Facts


  • Almost half (48%) of Americans over the age of 12 report being current drinkers of alcohol
  • About 20% of these Americans (or 1 in 5) admitted participating in binge drinking within the past 30 days.
  • 18-25 year olds reported the greatest amount of binge drinking, with 38-48% of people in this age range admitting to binge drinking within the past 30 days
  • Alcohol abuse is a pattern of drinking that results in one or more of the following situations within a 12-month period:
  • Failure to fulfill work, school, or home responsibilities
  • Drinking in situations that are potentially dangerous, such as while driving a car
  • Having recurring alcohol-related legal problems, such as DUI
  • Continued drinking despite ongoing relationship problems that are made worse by the drinking
  • Alcoholism, or alcohol dependence, is a disease that includes four symptoms:       
  • Craving- A compulsion, or strong need, to drink
  • Loss of Control- The inability to limit one’s drinking on any one occasion
  • Physical Dependence- Withdrawal symptoms occur when alcohol use is stopped after a period of heavy drinking (nausea, sweating, shaking, etc.)
  • Tolerance- The need to drink greater amounts of alcohol to “get high”

Consequences of Alcohol Misuse

  • Life threatening consequences can evolve from heavy alcohol use, including:
  • Increased risk for certain cancers, such as those of the liver, esophagus, throat, and larynx
  • Heavy drinking can cause liver cirrhosis, immune system problems, and brain damage in the drinker; some studies have shown that women are at higher risk for alcohol-related health problems than men.
  • Alcohol use during pregnancy can result in serious harm to the developing fetus, and can cause life-long problems in the child
  • Drinking increases risk of death from automobile accidents, and increases risk of involvement in recreational and on-the-job injuries
  • Both homicides and suicides are more likely to be committed by people who have been drinking


  • Approximately 5% of American women admit using illegal drugs within the past 30 days 
  • Drug use is heaviest among women of childbearing age: 4.8 million women between the ages of 15-44 reported using illegal drugs within the past 30 days 
  • Common drugs of abuse include: 
  • Cocaine, a powerfully addictive drug that is snorted, sniffed, injected, or smoked. (Street names: coke, snow, flake, blow, etc.). Cocaine makes the user feel euphoric and energetic. Common health effects include heart attacks, respiratory failure, strokes, and seizures. Large amounts can cause violent behavior. In rare cases, sudden death can occur on the first use of cocaine or unexpectedly thereafter. Adults age 26 and older have the highest rate of current cocaine use, compared to other age groups. 
  • Marijuana is the most commonly used illegal drug in the U.S. (Street names: pot, ganga, week, grass, etc.). The main active chemical is THC. Short-term effects include memory and learning problems, distorted perception, and difficulty thinking and solving problems. 
  • Heroin is an addictive drug that is processed from morphine and usually appears as a white or brown powder (Street names: smack, H, junk, etc.). Short-term effects include a surge of euphoria followed by alternately wakeful and drowsy states and cloudy mental functioning. Associated with fatal overdose and- particularly in users who inject the drug-infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis. Long-term users may develop collapsed veins, liver disease, and lung complications. 
  • Methamphetamine is an addictive stimulant that is closely related to amphetamine, but has longer lasting and more toxic effects on the central nervous system. It has a high potential for abuse and addiction. (Street names: speed, meth, chalk, ice, crystal, glass). Increases wakefulness and physical activity and decreases appetite. Chronic, long-term use can lead to psychotic behavior, hallucinations, and stroke. According to the 2004 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, nearly 12 million Americans have tried methamphetamine.                  

Mental Illness and Substance Use

  • 4 million Americans (12%) have been diagnosed with both a substance abuse disorder and a serious mental illness 
  • Roughly 50 percent of individuals with severe mental disorders are affected by substance abuse 
  • Thirty-seven percent of alcohol abusers and 53 percent of drug abusers also have at least one serious mental illness 
  • Of all people diagnosed as mentally ill, 29 percent abuse either alcohol or drugs 
  • Mental disorders that occur along with a substance use disorder are more chronic than mental disorders alone 
  • The presence of a substance use disorder can complicate the treatment of a serious mental illness 
  • Studies strongly suggest that individuals with both substance abuse problems and mental illness should receive treatment for both types of issues, in order to recover fully  

These facts were taken from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration at, the Medline Plus Website, a service of the National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health at, the National Alliance on Mental Illness at, and the National Institute of Drug Abuse at