With the help of demographic information gathered from the annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration tracks the factors that help determine the chances that any American age 12 or older will develop a diagnosable case of substance abuse or substance addiction.
The term substance abuse can be applied loosely to any situation in which a person does such things as misuse a prescription medication, take a medication prescribed to someone else, use an illegal drug or consume enough alcohol to regularly and/or seriously exceed accepted recommendations for relatively safe alcohol intake. Doctors may also use the term more narrowly to diagnose people who experience serious, life-impairing problems related to drug, medication or alcohol use, but don’t have a physical dependence on the substance in question. Substance addiction occurs when a person physically dependent on alcohol or a drug or medication develops symptoms such as strong cravings, increasing substance tolerance and substance withdrawal in the absence of access to alcohol or a given medication or drug. Under current guidelines, doctors address both substance abuse and substance addiction as elements of a single condition called substance use disorder.
Age- and Gender-Related Factors
As of early 2014, the most recent available information from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) comes from the year 2012. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration released this information in late 2013. According to the 2012 figures, the age group most likely to develop diagnosable problems with substance abuse or substance addiction is teenagers and young adults between the ages of 18 and 25; roughly 18.9 percent of all individuals in this group are affected. The next highest rate for abuse and addiction (7.0 percent) occurs in adults over the age of 25; among preteens and teenagers between the ages of 12 and 17, the rate for substance abuse and substance addiction is 6.1. Gender-related risks for abuse and addiction vary with age. While boys and girls between the ages of 12 and 17 develop substance-related problems at the same rate (6.1 percent), men develop these problems more than twice as often as women (12.2 percent vs. 5.7 percent).
Racial/Ethnic- and Education-Related Factors
Figures from the latest completed NSDUH show that, by far, the highest racial/ethnic-related risks for substance abuse and addiction occur in people of American Indian/Alaska Native ancestry; about 21.8 percent of teens and adults in this group have diagnosable problems. In descending order, the other most frequently affected racial/ethnic groups are people of mixed ancestry (10.1 percent), African Americans (8.9 percent), Hispanic/Latinos (8.8 percent), whites (8.7 percent), Native Hawaiian/other Pacific Islanders (5.4 percent) and Asian Americans 3.2 percent). In educational terms, adults who don’t graduate from high school have the highest risks for substance abuse and addiction (10.3 percent of the group total). In descending order, the next highest education-related rates appear in high school graduates who attend college but don’t graduate (9.7 percent), high school graduates who don’t attend college (8.8 percent) and college graduates (7.2 percent).
Employment status, geographic location and incarceration and probation histories also act as demographic risk factors for substance abuse and substance addiction. Figures from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health show that 16.9 percent of unemployed adults have diagnosable substance-related problems; in contrast, the rates for partially employed and fully employed adults are only 10.3 percent and 9.1 percent, respectively. Teenagers and adults living in the West develop substance-related issues at a rate of 9.3 percent. In descending order, rates in the other regions are 8.8 percent in the Midwest, 8.3 percent in the Northeast and 8.0 percent in the South. Adults on parole from jail or imprisonment develop symptoms of substance abuse or substance addiction far more often than people with no history of incarceration (34.0 percent vs. 8.6 percent). People on probation for criminal offenses also have much higher rates for these problems than people with no probation history (37.0 percent vs. 8.2 percent).