One out of 10 teenagers reports using illicit drugs, though prevalence
rates for current drug use by adolescents have fallen since 2002. Rates have,
however, increased slightly for middle-aged adults. Only about 10 percent of
either group get treated for substance-abuse problems.
Illicit drug use among teenagers continued on a gradual decline that began
in 2002, while use among baby boomers rose slightly, according to the results
of a government survey released in September. The study also showed that as
recently as last year, just 10 percent of all drug or alcohol abusers in the
United States received treatment at a specialized facility.
According to data from the 2005 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in
2002, 11.6 percent of youth between 12 and 17 reported using an illicit drug
currently (in the past month). last year, 9.9 percent were current illicit
drug users. Current marijuana use, which accounts for the majority of all
illicit drug use, has dropped from 8.2 percent in 2002 to 6.8 percent in 2005
for this age group.
“The trends among young people are encouraging,” Health and
Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said in a press release issued in
September by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
(SAMHSA), the organization that sponsors the annual survey. “We know
prevention activities must start with our children. There is more to be done,
and we must build on our work to ensure that children and their parents
understand that they must live free of drugs and alcohol to be
Each year, SAMHSA surveys approximately 67,500 people in their homes to
estimate national drug use rates and prevalence and the prevalence of alcohol
and substance use disorders and other mental health problems.
Researchers from RTI International, a research firm located in Research
Triangle Park, N.C., collect the data, which are then extrapolated to
Among adults aged 50 to 59, current drug use rose from 2.7 percent in 2002
to 4.4 percent last year.
In addition, an estimated 19.7 million Americans aged 12 and older used an
illicit drug during the past month, representing 8 percent of the
Marijuana was far and away the most commonly used illicit drug among survey
respondents, with an estimated 14.6 million past-month users (see chart).
There were an estimated 9 million people 12 and older who were current
users of drugs other than marijuana in 2005.
The majority of these (6.4 million) used prescription drugs for
recreational purposes. For instance, 4.7 million used painkillers, 1.8 million
used tranquilizers, and 1.1 million used stimulants; some used more than one
drug. The most prevalent source of these prescription medications was through
relatives or friends who had been prescribed them (for almost 60 percent of
respondents), and 17 percent reported that they obtained the drug through a
doctor. Only 4.3 percent said they obtained the medications from a drug dealer
Over half of Americans aged 12 or older reported being current alcohol
drinkers in 2005 (51.8 percent). This translates to an estimated 126 million
people. In 2004, there were 121 million current drinkers.
In 2005, about 46 percent of young adults aged 21 to 25 engaged in binge
drinking, which is defined as consuming five or more alcoholic beverages on
the same occasion on at least one day during the past month.
Heavy alcohol use (defined as consuming five or more drinks on one occasion
on each of five or more days in the past month) was reported by 15.3 percent
of young adults aged 18 to 25. These rates have remained stable since
Also, in 2005, an estimated 13 percent of people aged 12 and older (31.7
million people) drove under the influence of alcohol at least once during the
An estimated 22.2 million people aged 12 or older were classified with
substance abuse or dependence last year. Of these, 3.3 million were classified
with dependence or abuse of both alcohol and drugs, 3.6 million were dependent
or abused drugs alone, and 15.4 million were dependent on or abused alcohol
Survey questions about dependence on drugs or alcohol addressed health and
emotional problems linked to substance use, unsuccessful attempts to cut down
on use, tolerance, withdrawal, reducing other activities to use substances,
spending a great deal of time engaging in activities related to substance use,
or using substances in greater quantities or for a longer duration of time
than was intended.
Questions about abuse addressed problems at work, home, and school,
problems with family or friends, physical danger, and trouble with the law due
to substance use.
There were an estimated 3.9 million people aged 12 or older who received
some kind of treatment for a problem related to the use of alcohol or drugs in
2005. Of these, 1.5 million received treatment for the use of both alcohol and
drugs, 700,000 received treatment for a drug problem, and 1.3 million were
treated for an alcohol problem.
An estimated 23.2 million people aged 12 or older needed treatment for a
drug or alcohol problem last year, according to the survey, yet only 2.3
million received care at a specialty treatment facility.
The survey defined respondents as needing treatment for an alcohol or drug
use problem if they met DSM-IV criteria for dependence on or abuse of
alcohol or drugs in the past year or if they received specialty treatment for
alcohol or drug use in the past year.
Based on combined data from the 2004 and 2005 surveys, the five most common
reasons for not receiving treatment for a drug or alcohol problem included the
following: respondents felt they were not ready to stop using (37.9 percent);
they experienced cost or insurance barriers (35 percent); experienced stigma
related to the drug or alcohol problem and need for treatment (24 percent);
did not know where to go for treatment (14 percent).
The 2005 National Survey on Drug Use and Health is posted at<oas.samhsa.gov/nsduh/2k5nsduh/2k5Results.htm>.▪