Article  Human Dignity  Substance Abuse

5 Facts about substance abuse

This weekend many churches in America will observe Substance Abuse Prevention Sunday. In preparation for the observance, here are five facts you should know about the most commonly abused drugs in America.

1. More than 70,000 Americans died of a drug overdose in 2017, the last year for which complete data is available. The rate was 21.7 per 100,000 population, a increase of nearly 10 percent from 2016. Opioids were involved in over two-thirds of overdose deaths, with death rates linked to synthetic opioids increasing more than 45 percent. The rates of overdose deaths involving cocaine increased by more than 34 percent, and the rate of overdose deaths involving psychostimulants (e.g., medicines often prescribed for people with ADHD) increased by more than 33 percent.

2. An estimated 1.7 million people in the U.S. suffer from substance use disorders related to prescription opioid pain relievers, and 652,000 suffered from a heroin use disorder (the two categories overlap). About 21 to 29 percent of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them, and between eight and 12 percent develop an opioid use disorder. Of those who misuse prescription opioids, an estimated four to six percent transition to the abuse of heroin. About 80 percent of people who use heroin first misused prescription opioids.

3. Alcohol is the most commonly drug in America—and remains the most deadly. Although opioid abuse leads to more direct overdoses, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that more than 88,000 people die from alcohol-related deaths each year. Excessive drinking is also responsible for one in 10 deaths among working-age adults aged 20-64 years. Alcohol-impaired driving also accounts for more than 30 percent of all driving fatalities each year. The abuse of alcohol is the third-leading cause of preventable death in America.

4. Binge drinking is the most common, costly, and deadly pattern of excessive alcohol use in the United States, notes the CDC. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 grams percent or above. This typically happens when men consume five or more drinks or women consume four or more drinks in about two hours. One in six U.S. adults binge drinks about four times a month, consuming about seven drinks per binge. This results in 17 billion total binge drinks consumed by adults annually, or 467 binge drinks per binge drinker. Binge drinking is most common among younger adults aged 18–34 years, but more than half of the total binge drinks are consumed by those aged 35 and older. Binge drinking is more common among people with household incomes of $75,000 or more and higher educational levels. Binge drinkers with lower incomes and educational levels, however, consume more binge drinks per year.

5. After alcohol, marijuana (cannabis) has the highest rate of dependence or abuse among all drugs. About one in 10 marijuana users will become addicted to the drug, and for people who begin using younger than 18, that number rises to one in six. Despite being treated as rather harmless by legalization advocates, cannabis has been proven to have severe detrimental effects on health and society. For instance, there is a consensus in the medical community that use of cannabis increases the risk of psychosis/psychotic disorders, including schizophrenia. The drug also increases risks to children. A recent study by the Texas Department of Child and Family Services found that marijuana was the substance most identified as an active substance in child abuse and neglect-related fatalities, representing over half of the cases. 

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