The Average Age of Substance Abuse Statistics

April 15, 2024

Unveiling substance abuse statistics: Average age exposed. Discover the impact, common drugs, and treatment insights.

Substance Abuse Statistics Overview

Understanding the prevalence of substance abuse and the commonly abused substances is essential in addressing this widespread issue. By examining these statistics, we can gain insights into the scope of the problem and the substances that are most commonly misused.

Prevalence of Substance Abuse

According to a study published by the NCBI, approximately 22.5% of participants reported ever using substances. Among the substances surveyed, alcohol emerged as the most frequently used, followed by cannabis and cigarettes. These findings highlight the significant impact of substance abuse on individuals and society as a whole.

Commonly Abused Substances

Different substances have different effects on individuals, and it is important to recognize the commonly abused substances in order to address the associated risks and challenges. Here are some notable statistics regarding commonly abused substances:

  • Alcohol: In the United States, 14% of individuals meet criteria for alcohol use disorder (AUD), making it a prevalent issue to address (NCBI). Additionally, underage drinking continues to be a concern, with an estimated 81.4% of people who drank alcohol for the first time being younger than age 21 at the time they started drinking.
  • Tobacco: Tobacco use disorder (TUD) affects approximately 13% of individuals in the United States, highlighting the continued prevalence of smoking (NCBI). In 2012, it was estimated that 69.5 million Americans over the age of 12 were current users of a tobacco product, with the highest prevalence of cigarette use found among people aged 21 to 25.
  • Cannabis: An estimated 4% of individuals meet criteria for cannabis use disorder (CUD) (NCBI). The use of cannabis, especially among young adults, continues to be a concern, with approximately 133,000 people trying methamphetamine for the first time in 2012, with an average age of 19 years old (Duffy's Rehab).

By understanding the prevalence of substance abuse and the substances most commonly misused, we can develop effective strategies to address these issues. It is crucial to raise awareness, provide education, and promote access to treatment and support for individuals struggling with substance abuse.

Factors Influencing Substance Abuse

Various factors contribute to the prevalence of substance abuse. Understanding these factors is crucial for addressing and preventing substance abuse. In this section, we will explore the influence of age, gender disparities, and racial and ethnic variances on substance abuse.

Age and Substance Abuse

Age plays a significant role in substance abuse patterns. According to a study, the majority of substance abusers start abusing drugs between the ages of 15-19 years, accounting for 56.3% of all abusers. This highlights the vulnerability of adolescents and young adults to substance abuse.

During this critical period of development, individuals may experiment with drugs or alcohol due to various factors such as peer pressure, curiosity, or a desire to fit in. It is important to provide education and support systems that focus on prevention and early intervention to address substance abuse among young people.

Gender Disparities

Gender disparities are also evident in substance abuse statistics. Men generally report higher rates of substance use disorders than women. This difference can be attributed to various factors, including biological, social, and cultural influences. Studies indicate that men may be more likely to engage in risky behaviors and have higher rates of substance abuse compared to women.

However, it is important to note that substance abuse affects individuals of all genders, and no one is immune to its impact. Providing gender-specific prevention and treatment programs can help address the unique challenges and needs of both men and women struggling with substance abuse.

Racial and Ethnic Variances

Substance abuse patterns also vary across different racial and ethnic groups. The prevalence of substance use disorders differs by race and ethnicity, and the specific substances abused may vary as well. Recent data indicates that alcohol use disorders (AUDs) are lower among Black and Latino individuals compared to White individuals, while tobacco use and nicotine dependence are lower among Black and Hispanic individuals compared to White individuals (NCBI).

It is important to recognize and address these disparities to ensure that prevention and treatment efforts are tailored to the unique needs of different racial and ethnic groups. By understanding the factors that contribute to these variations, healthcare professionals and policymakers can develop culturally sensitive interventions that promote equal access to prevention, treatment, and support services.

By considering the influence of age, gender, and racial and ethnic factors on substance abuse, we can better understand the complex dynamics that contribute to substance abuse prevalence. This knowledge can inform targeted interventions, public health policies, and educational initiatives aimed at reducing substance abuse and improving overall well-being for individuals and communities.

Impact of Substance Abuse

Substance abuse can have wide-ranging effects on various aspects of an individual's life. In this section, we will explore the impact of substance abuse on education, family dynamics, and health consequences.

Educational Impact

Substance abuse can significantly affect an individual's educational journey. Research shows that approximately one-third of substance abusers drop out of school at the secondary level of education. Substance abuse can interfere with academic performance, leading to poor attendance, difficulty concentrating, and reduced motivation to succeed. These factors can hinder educational progress and limit future opportunities.

Family Dynamics

The impact of substance abuse extends beyond the individual and can have a profound effect on family dynamics. More than half of the parents of substance abusers are either divorced, separated, or never married. Substance abuse can strain relationships, create conflicts, and contribute to an unstable and unhealthy home environment. Additionally, family members often experience emotional distress, feelings of betrayal, and financial burdens as they try to support and cope with the substance abuser's behavior.

Health Consequences

Substance abuse can have severe health consequences, both physical and mental. The specific health risks depend on the substance being abused and the patterns of use. Here are some examples of health consequences associated with commonly abused substances:

Prescription Medications

Prescription medications, such as benzodiazepines, can lead to physical dependence and addiction if overused, even when taken as prescribed. Abruptly stopping these medications can be dangerous, and if dependence is suspected, it is advised to consult a doctor.

Opioid Painkillers

Opioid painkillers, like oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet), can be abused by crushing, snorting, or injecting, which increases the risk of overdose. Street names for these drugs include "oxy," "O.C.," and "oxycotton" for OxyContin, and "percs" for Percocet or Percodan.


Stimulants, like amphetamines (Adderall, Dextroamphetamine), can be addictive when abused. High doses can result in dangerous side effects such as a dangerous rise in body temperature, irregular heartbeat, and cardiac arrest. Street names for amphetamines include "bennies," "black beauties," and "speed."

Cold and Cough Medicines

Cold and cough medicines containing dextromethorphan can be abused by taking large doses to get high and cause hallucinations. This ingredient is popular among teenagers, as cough syrup is easily accessible in medicine cabinets. High doses can lead to vomiting, rapid heart rate, and, rarely, brain damage.


Pseudoephedrine, a decongestant in many non-prescription cold medicines, can be an ingredient in illegal methamphetamine ("meth"). To prevent meth abuse, U.S. laws regulate the purchase of pseudoephedrine products, sometimes requiring them to be located behind the counter and purchased with restrictions.

It is important to note that substance abuse can lead to addiction, psychological dependence, and a range of physical and mental health problems. Seeking professional help and accessing appropriate treatment resources is crucial for individuals struggling with substance abuse.

Understanding the impact of substance abuse can help raise awareness and promote prevention and intervention efforts to mitigate its detrimental effects on individuals, families, and communities.

Commonly Abused Drugs

When it comes to substance abuse, certain drugs are more commonly abused than others. Understanding the risks and effects of these substances is crucial in addressing substance abuse issues. In this section, we will explore several commonly abused drugs, including prescription medications, opioid painkillers, stimulants, cold and cough medicines, and pseudoephedrine.

Prescription Medications

Prescription medications, when used as prescribed under a doctor's guidance, can be beneficial for managing various health conditions. However, some prescription medications have a high potential for abuse, such as benzodiazepines. These medications can lead to physical dependence and addiction if overused, even when taken as prescribed. It is important to follow the prescribed dosage and duration and consult a doctor if dependence is suspected (WebMD).

Opioid Painkillers

Opioid painkillers, such as oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet), are highly effective in relieving pain. However, they are also frequently abused. Some individuals misuse these drugs by crushing, snorting, or injecting them, which increases the risk of overdose and other severe health consequences. Street names for opioid painkillers include "oxy," "O.C.," and "oxycotton" for OxyContin, and "percs" for Percocet or Percodan (WebMD).


Stimulant medications, such as amphetamines (Adderall, Dextroamphetamine), are commonly prescribed for conditions like attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. However, when these medications are abused, they can lead to addiction and other adverse effects. High doses of stimulants can result in dangerous side effects, such as a dangerous rise in body temperature, irregular heartbeat, and cardiac arrest. Street names for amphetamines include "bennies," "black beauties," and "speed" (WebMD).

Cold and Cough Medicines

Certain over-the-counter cold and cough medicines contain an ingredient called dextromethorphan (DXM), which can be abused for its hallucinogenic effects when taken in large doses. This ingredient is particularly popular among teenagers. However, consuming high doses of cold and cough medicines can lead to vomiting, rapid heart rate, and, rarely, brain damage. It is essential to use these medications as directed and keep them out of reach of individuals who may misuse them (WebMD).


Pseudoephedrine is a decongestant commonly found in non-prescription cold medicines. However, it can also be an ingredient in illegal methamphetamine ("meth"). To prevent meth abuse, U.S. laws regulate the purchase of pseudoephedrine products, often requiring them to be located behind the counter and purchased with restrictions. It is important to follow these regulations and use these medications responsibly.

Understanding the commonly abused drugs is essential in addressing substance abuse issues and promoting awareness. It is crucial to educate individuals about the risks associated with these substances and provide support for those struggling with addiction. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, it is important to seek help from professionals and treatment centers specialized in addiction recovery.

Substance Use Disorders

Substance use disorders (SUDs) encompass a range of conditions characterized by the excessive and problematic use of substances. It is important to understand the different types of SUDs, the demographic patterns associated with them, and the treatment statistics related to these disorders.

Types of Substance Use Disorders

There are various types of substance use disorders, each specific to different substances. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), the prevalence rates of different substance use disorders in the United States are as follows:

Substance Use Disorder Prevalence

Substance Use Disorder Prevalence

Substance Use Disorder Prevalence
Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) 14%
Tobacco Use Disorder (TUD) 13%
Cannabis Use Disorder (CUD) 4%
Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) 1%

These statistics highlight the varying degrees of substance use disorders, with alcohol and tobacco disorders being the most prevalent. To delve deeper into the impact of these disorders and the specific substances involved, it is important to consider demographic patterns.

Demographic Patterns

When examining substance use disorders, demographic patterns provide valuable insights into the prevalence and distribution of these disorders. Men generally report higher rates of substance use disorders compared to women, as reported by the NCBI.

Racial and ethnic differences in substance use disorders also vary by drug. Recent data indicates that the prevalence of substance use disorders differs among different racial and ethnic groups. For instance, alcohol use disorders are lower among Black and Latino adults compared to White adults, while tobacco use and nicotine dependence are generally lower among Black and Hispanic individuals compared to White individuals. The prevalence of cannabis use disorder is similar between White and Black adults, while Latinos have lower rates. Opioid use disorders are lower among Black adults compared to White and Latino adults.

Furthermore, estimated prevalences of substance use disorders vary across age groups and racial/ethnic groups. The rates of substance use disorders generally decrease with older ages for both men and women, as well as for all racial/ethnic groups. However, the age at which these crossover effects occur differ by substance and racial/ethnic group. For example, White participants tend to have higher rates of alcohol and tobacco use disorders in young adulthood, but then have similar or lower rates at older ages. Crossover effects are observed between Black and White participants for alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, and opioid use disorders (NCBI).

Treatment Statistics

Understanding the treatment landscape for substance use disorders is vital in addressing the challenges associated with these conditions. In 2014, approximately 20.2 million adults aged 18 or older in the United States had a past-year substance use disorder, representing about 8.4 percent of the total adult population. Of these adults, 16.3 million had an alcohol use disorder and 6.2 million had an illicit drug use disorder, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Despite the prevalence of substance use disorders, the percentage of adults receiving treatment for alcohol or illicit drug use at a specialty facility has remained relatively stable. In 2014, 2.5 million adults aged 18 or older received treatment for substance use at a specialty facility in the past year, which translates to 1.0 percent of the total adult population or 7.6 percent of adults with a past-year substance use disorder. The percentage of adults receiving treatment has remained consistent between 2002 and 2014 (SAMHSA).

By understanding the types of substance use disorders, the demographic patterns associated with them, and the treatment statistics, we can strive to address the challenges presented by substance abuse and work towards effective prevention and treatment strategies.


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