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Facing Reality: 8 Shocking Drug and Alcohol Abuse Statistics

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It’s no secret that drugs and alcohol can have detrimental consequences on your mind, body, and life.

They are indiscriminate in who they affect; anyone who abuses alcohol or drugs is at risk for developing an addiction.

Although sometimes glorified in the media and pop culture, these mind-altering substances can lead to overdose or severe, long-term damage. The fact that alcohol is a drug is often ignored due to its prominence in our daily lives.

Some drugs of abuse are legal when prescribed by a physician but millions of Americans are misusing or abusing these drugs in order to get high, influenced by the common misconception that legality ensures safety. But these drugs are far from safe; opioid painkillers, which benefit those suffering from severe, chronic pain, are the cause of thousands of overdoses a year.

Likewise, benzodiazepines, which are prescribed to treat anxiety disorders and insomnia, can lead to long-term damages, and can be life-threatening when combined with alcohol.

Read on to learn 8 shocking statistics about drug and alcohol abuse.

1. Those who abuse prescription opioids are 40% more likely to use heroin than those who don’t.1

Opioid painkillers and heroin share a very similar chemical structure and produce virtually identical effects. Painkillers are often more expensive than heroin and thus, many individuals addicted to opioids end up using heroin as a cheaper and more easily accessible alternative.

2. The United States consumes 80% of the world’s prescription painkiller supply, despite not even making up 5% of the world’s population.2

Opioids are prescribed now more than ever due to their over prescription for chronic and acute pain. Alarmingly, doctor supervision can be completely avoided as prescription painkillers are easily available on the Internet, making them accessible to anyone with a credit card—this increases the likelihood of toxic reactions and dependency.3

3. Nearly 17 million adults in the United States suffer from alcoholism.4

Many people forget that alcohol is a drug because of how pervasive it is in our society, but it is one of the most dangerous and addictive drugs out there. It can lead to severe adverse health effects and life-threatening withdrawal symptoms.

4. An estimated 88,000 people die per year due to alcohol.4

Whether it be due to a medical complication such as cirrhosis, cancer, or heart attack, alcohol is the third most preventable disease in the world.

5. It’s possible to die the first time you use cocaine; consumption quadruples the risk of sudden death.5

Sudden death typically occurs due to cardiac arrest or a stroke and doesn’t only affect those who use the stimulant long-term. Whether it’s your first, fifth, or hundredth time trying cocaine, you put yourself at risk of dying.

6. Long-term benzodiazepine users have an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.6

Although benzodiazepines can be beneficial in treating those who suffer from an anxiety disorder or insomnia, patients should be cautioned against unwarranted long-term use.

7. Drug abuse led to about 2.5 million emergency department visits in 2011.7

Drugs impair decision-making and judgment in users, which leads to a number of negative consequences, such as mixing substances, driving under the influence, or engaging in physical fights. Overdose is one main reason for emergency department visits and it most commonly occurs when two drugs are combined.

8. Only about 11% of those addicted to drugs or alcohol in 2009 actually received treatment for their substance abuse disorder.8

This means that about 20 million people suffering from an addiction to drugs or alcohol went untreated. Those who don’t enter a recovery program are at risk for developing or exacerbating a mental health disorder or physical ailments.


1. Longo, Dan L., Wilson M. Compton, Christopher M. Jones, and Grant T. Baldwin. (2016). Relationship between Nonmedical Prescription-Opioid Use and Heroin Use. New England Journal of Medicine, 374(2), 154-63.
2. American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians. (2011). The American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians (ASIPP) Fact Sheet.
3. Compton, W. M., & Volkow, N. D. (2006). Major increases in opioid analgesic abuse in the United States: concerns and strategies. Drug and alcohol dependence, 81(2), 103-107.
4.Alcohol Facts and Statistics. (2015). Alcohol Facts and Statistics.
5. Morentin, Benito, Javier Ballesteros, Luis F. Callado, and J. Javier Meana. (2014). Recent Cocaine Use Is a Significant Risk Factor for Sudden Cardiovascular Death in 15-49-year-old Subjects: A Forensic Case-control Study. Addiction 109(12), 2071-078.
6. Gage, S. Billioti De, Y. Moride, T. Ducruet, T. Kurth, H. Verdoux, M. Tournier, A. Pariente, and B. Begaud. (2014). Benzodiazepine Use and Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease: Case-control Study. BMJ 349(G5205).
7. NCJRS. (2016). National Criminal Justice Reference Service.
8. DrugFacts. (2016). Treatment Statistics.

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Marisa Crane, B.S., is a web content writer at Recovery Brands. Before Recovery Brands, she worked as a Behavioral Health Worker for at-risk youth in the school setting and as a Mental Health Worker for adolescents in a partial hospitalization program, where she worked closely with therapists to implement individualized treatment plans and prevention programs, as well as intervening when problematic behaviors arose.

Marisa has a bachelor’s degree in Health Sciences and a minor in Psychology from Drexel University and is currently pursuing her master’s degree in Social Work from Widener University.

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