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It’s hard to imagine a subject that has more impact on society than substance use and abuse. Drugs and alcohol playa significant role in crime, family dysfunction, child abuse & neglect, violence, accidental death, quality of life, mental illness, and much more. Drug use often serves as a barometer for how healthy or unhealthy a society is. Therefore knowing the statistics on substance use is a key part of understanding society.

The facts and statistics on drugs and alcohol listed below will cover every single aspect of substance abuse and addiction you could ever wonder about. But first, a couple important notes on these statistics:

Different study methods will produce different statistics

Because these statistics have been gathered from hundreds of different studies using different sample groups and slightly different methodologies, each one may show somewhat different results. Taken as a whole, however, they provide the most complete picture of drug and alcohol use in American society that you’ll find anywhere.

Why official statistics tend to under-report actual drug and alcohol use

Another important thing to understand is that the actual rates of drug and alcohol use or the things people do when intoxicated tend to be grossly under-reported in official statistics. The reason for this is that even in anonymous surveys, people tend to lie about bad, embarrassing, unethical or illegal behavior. For example, 79% of students inflate their grades, parents tend to claim their parenting practices are more sound than they really are, people claim higher rates of church attendance and lower rates of abortion than is actually the case, and if people actually brushed their teeth as often as they say they do, we would sell 3-times the amount of toothpaste that is actually sold. (Barringer, 1993) “The more sensitive and deviant the behavior, the more likely it is to be underreported,” says Joe Gfroerer, who oversees the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration survey of drug use. (Hagerman, 2008)

Drug use and abuse is one of those things people under-report in surveys of all types. “We’ve done comparisons between what people report they drink and what is sold,” says Robert Brewer, speaking of statistics on alcohol consumption. “We’re probably picking up less than a third of alcohol consumption.” (Lloyd, 1-11-2012) And when sewer tests were done to analyze the amount of drugs contained in human waste (a lovely process known as sewer epidemiology), it was shown that the actual incidence of illicit drug use is about twice what is reported through anonymous surveys in those same neighborhoods. (Hagerman, 2008)

All in all, it’s safe to say that multiplying these numbers by two or three will give you a more accurate statistic on what really goes on.

Some statistics, such as rates on lifetime use and whether a person has ever tried a drug, may be under-reported only slightly and be fairly close to accurate. Other statistics, however, such as how much is consumed, whether they are a regular user, how frequently they partake, and whether or not a person engages in problematic behavior (addiction, driving drunk, family discord, etc.) will generally fall under this factor of 3 rule.

Drug & Alcohol Statistics

The links below are contained in our alcohol section and will take you to that area:

  • Alcohol facts & statistics

  • Alcohol use & drinking rates among college students

  • Binge drinking statistics

  • The things that people do when drunk

  • Alcoholism facts & Statistics

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