Get help today 888-744-0069 or sign up for 24/7 text support.
American Addiction Centers National Rehabs Directory

Drug Abuse Policies in the United States

What Are Drug Policies in the U.S.?

In America, drug policy involves the laws that control the distribution and use of both prescription and illicit drugs. From the classification of drugs according to their potential for abuse to the legalization or decriminalization of certain drugs, drug policy has undergone many changes over the years.

Drug abuse policies address issues such as drugged driving, prescription drug misuse, prevention methods, and how drugs affect specific populations. Substance abuse policies in the United States work to help prevent drug abuse and educate the public about the dangers of drug use and sales.

Laws Regulating Substance Abuse

While the 1980s brought a hardline war on drugs to the United States, the public’s opinion on that war has changed over the years. Some Americans feel that the government should focus more on drug rehabilitation treatment rather than criminal penalties for drug possession, a survey by Pew Research Center showed.1

Coupled with the legalization and decriminalization of certain drugs—such as marijuana—in various states, the public seems to be more accepting of the progressive concept that addiction is a disease that must be treated and managed, rather than a matter of willpower or moral corruption.

In 2014, the U.S. Sentencing Commission opted to decrease sentences for nonviolent drug offenders in an undisputed vote. To avoid recidivism, these released inmates will need to have solid relapse prevention strategies in place. Social and familial support—in the form of structured inpatient or outpatient treatment programs or 12-Step meetings in the community—can help people in recovery remain strong in their newfound sobriety.

Drug Classification

The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) schedules drugs according to their medical use and addictive or dependence potential. The DEA categorizes drugs into 5 schedules, ranging from the most dangerous at Schedule I to those with the least potential for abuse at Schedule V.2

Schedule I drugs:

  • Have no accepted use in the medical field.
  • Have strong addiction potential.
  • Examples include heroin and ecstasy.

Schedule II drugs:

Schedule III drugs:

Schedule IV drugs:

  • Have less potential for misuse and a lower risk of dependency.
  • Examples are Xanax, Darvocet, and Ativan.

Schedule V drugs:

  • Include over-the-counter medications.
  • Have a lower potential for misuse than Schedule IV drugs.
  • Examples include Robitussin and Lyrica.

Prescription Drug Abuse

The policy for controlling prescription drug abuse contains 4 major points:

  • Education: It is critical to educate parents, youths, and patients about the dangers of prescription drugs.
  • Monitoring: Prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) should be in place to help monitor people who doctor shop—a term used for when a patient sees more than one doctor to obtain multiple prescriptions. These programs will help doctors share their files across states, as well.
  • Proper Medication Disposal: Prescribers must also be educated on the appropriate and safe use of drugs and how to dispose of these drugs. It is important to develop a way to dispose of medications in an environmentally friendly manner. This will also help to reduce the number of unused drugs patients keep in the home and, consequentially, the likelihood of abuse.
  • Enforcement: Enforcement will help to provide law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to eliminate improper practices regarding pill mills and prescribing.

Drugged Driving

Drugged driving is being targeted by drug abuse policies. These policies helped to create anti-drug media campaigns and the Drug-Free Communities Support Program (DFC).

The Above the Influence campaign is used as a teen anti-drug program, while the DFC helps support organizations that promote drug-free living for youth with federal funding.

Drug Abuse Prevention

Prevention may be one of the most cost-effective ways of promoting healthy communities. Teens who abstain from drugs perform better in school, while prevention programs have ensured fewer drugged drivers and more productive workplaces.

In March 2022, the U.S. government increased “funding for prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and recovery.”3

Populations of the United States

Drug addiction can occur in any group. However, certain groups are more likely to be at risk for drug misuse.

For members of the military and veterans, the government focuses on how trauma and combat can affect drug use and addiction. Veterans who misuse drugs and alcohol may do so to cope with service-related experiences.4 Getting professional support can help a person find the right treatment and care.4

Women, children, and families may be exposed to drugs for different reasons. Women might be prone to drug misuse because of:

There are particular drug policies with programs in place for women suffering with drug addiction. These include programs focused on maternal health and health during pregnancy.

Drug use in Native American and Native Alaskan populations has increased, and the U.S. government has been working to develop programs tailored to these populations. These policies help by promoting ideas and themes specific to those regions and helping tribal authorities create a strategy that includes treatment, prevention, recovery, and law enforcement.

Find Drug or Alcohol Addiction Treatment Programs

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, help is available and recovery is possible. Treatment can start anyone battling a substance use problem on the path to a healthier and happier life. Rehab programs are located throughout the U.S., and a variety of treatment types is available. You can use SAMHSA’s Find Treatment tool to search for facilities. Many state government websites will provide local drug and alcohol resources to those in need. To find your state government’s website, do a web search for your state name and ‘.gov.’

American Addiction Centers (AAC) is a leading treatment provider and has trusted rehab programs across the country. For helpful advice, information, or admissions, please contact a caring AAC representative free at .

Drug and Alcohol Addiction Treatment Levels of Care

Recommended Drug and Alcohol Rehab-Related Articles

Was this page helpful?
Thank you for your feedback.

American Addiction Centers (AAC) is committed to delivering original, truthful, accurate, unbiased, and medically current information. We strive to create content that is clear, concise, and easy to understand.

Read our full editorial policy

While we are unable to respond to your feedback directly, we'll use this information to improve our online help.