By the Numbers


“Drugs kill.” It’s a message children as young as five years old hear in classrooms on a regular basis, and in time, it might seem like simple background noise that means nothing at all. In fact, as these children grow up into adults who make their own decisions about drugs and alcohol, they may come to believe that the substances aren’t really dangerous at all.

In reality, however, drugs are every bit as dangerous as the sayings of our teachers and parents would have us believe. Statistics don’t lie, and when it comes to substance abuse and addiction, the figures that are available can be shockingly sad.

Published: March 26, 2014

Alcohol Abuse

One in four Americans drinks at least one alcoholic beverage each and every week, and 12 percent of these drinkers have one or more drinks of alcohol each and every day.[1] This is a staggering amount of alcohol swilling through our country, and while many people seem capable of handling their consumption with no ill effects whatsoever, many people find it hard to control their habits, when it comes to drinking. In fact, according to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, one American adult in 12 is considered an alcoholic or an alcohol abuser.[2] These people cannot control how much they drink, and their lives might revolve around the use and abuse of the substance.

But alcohol also has an impact on the brain that’s hard to ignore, and when that sip of booze is in place, the brain might be impaired to such a degree that real recovery seems difficult or impossible. For example, in a study profiled in Science Daily,[3] researchers used positron emission tomography (PET imaging) to track the response of brain cells when they were exposed to alcohol. Some study participants were heavy drinkers, but others didn’t have a history of alcohol abuse. In each person who participated, regardless of alcoholism history, a jolt of alcohol resulted in a release of endorphins in the orbitofrontal cortex of the brain. In heavy drinkers, that big boost resulted in an intense feeling of intoxication, but the relatively sober people didn’t feel the same response.

Some people drink to handle stressful situations, including:

  • First dates
  • Weddings
  • Family reunions
  • Class reunions
  • Office parties
  • Wakes

Why does this matter? It seems to suggest that people who have a long history of drinking just find the activity to be a little more rewarding and a little more pleasant. They might be drawn to drinking in the future, because the activity seems to please them. In a way, they’ve been conditioned to enjoy alcohol.

People who can’t stop drinking might drink to such a degree that they lose their lives in the process. About 2.5 million people die each year due to illnesses and injuries that are directly related to drinking, and among those 15 to 29 years old, nine percent of all deaths can be attributed to alcohol.[4] It’s just remarkably deadly.

Among all countries in the world with an alcohol-death problem, the United States ranks 49th, coming behind countries like El Salvador (1st place), Haiti (7th place) and France (17th place).[5] But there’s little to celebrate here, as Americans who drink tend to cause a significant amount of damage to their countrymen.

These stats should give everyone pause, and they should prompt people to get treatment for their alcohol disorders. Unfortunately, few people who need help get it. Why didn’t they get help? Of those questioned, 42 percent reported that they just weren’t ready to stop drinking.[8]
alcohol abuse help statistics
A state filled with people who drove drunk would be the fifth largest in the United States, and one-third of those arrested or convicted of drunk driving have driven drunk in the past. In addition, one in three people will be in a drunk-driving crash during their lifetime.[6]
Drunk Driving

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Alcohol is remarkably dangerous, in part, because it’s accessible. People can simply walk into a bar and order a drink, if they meet specific age requirements, or they can wander into stores and purchase as much of the substance as they’d like and ingest those drinks at home. It’s easy enough to do. But drugs that aren’t available in the grocery store or in a bar can be just as dangerous as alcohol. Among those illegal substances, heroin seems to be causing the most widespread damage, in terms of illnesses and fatalities.

The number of people who take heroin on a regular basis is relatively low. In fact, recent studies[9] suggest that about 669,000 people use heroin at least once on a yearly basis. But there is some evidence that suggests that use of this drug is on the rise, due to the relative expense associated with prescription painkillers. These drugs work on the same receptors used by heroin, producing the same sense of euphoria and pleasure, but they’re often offered at two or even three times the cost.

The average user isn’t a person who sits on the streets and cooks up in abandoned houses. In fact, heroin use has moved into the mainstream, and experts suggest that many people who might never have been associated with heroin in the past are considered commonplace users now.

“Heroin abuse is not limited to a certain demographic or geographic area,” said Rusty Payne, public affairs director of the DEA, in an article in The Daily Beast.[11] “What has been seen as primarily an urban drug in reality is a drug that touches every segment of society. Inner cities, wealthy suburbs, poor rural areas – everywhere.”
compare cost per dose

Those who experiment with heroin, even once, may find that the drug is so powerful and so alluring that their addictions develop with breathtaking speed. Of those who experiment with heroin, one in four will develop an addiction to the substance.[12] It’s just that strong.

Health Risks of Heroin

Those who do develop an addiction could die due to all sorts of medical complications, including:

  • Overdoses
  • Heart damage
  • Infections
  • Blood-borne pathogens
  • Tainted batches of drugs
  • Respiratory distress
  • Weakened immune systems
  • Kidney failure

The death rates due to heroin may rise too, as communities work to reduce the impact of heroin among the people who live and work in the area. For example, people who abuse heroin often use needles to do so, and many states limit the sale of needles in order to discourage people from using heroin. Unfortunately, when needle supplies are scarce, people begin to share needles and their rates of infections rise. Minnesota is seeing this firsthand, as 32 people were newly diagnosed with hepatitis C in 2012 alone.[13] Experts there blame the rise on use of heroin, and they claim that the real number of hep C-infected people could be higher, as few people who are impacted with the infection get tested for the problem.

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Stimulant Drugs

Drugs like heroin and alcohol slow down the body’s vital functions, bringing a sense of calm and relaxation to users. But some people take drugs in order to stay awake and energetic. These people tend to focus on stimulant drugs, including cocaine and methamphetamine, and while they might have different reasons to cite in order to explain their behavior, their actions are still considered dangerous.

Those who dabble in stimulants aren’t doomed to develop an addiction, as these substances seem to become alluring only with regular use. For example, a study quoted by Forbes[14] suggests that only 10 or 20 percent of users of crack cocaine become addicted to the substance, and many can use the drug once and leave it alone.

Addiction Rates

Cocaine Addiction Stats

Similarly, stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine aren’t associated with a huge death toll. In fact, research suggests that heroin and methadone are capable of causing higher death rates, when compared to standard stimulants. But the speed of these drugs can cause intense damage to the cells of the brain, and that can cause what experts refer to as “befuddlement.[15]

People like this might:

  • Make impulsive decisions
  • Forget the details of conversations
  • React with anger, rather than reason
  • Find it difficult to learn information

In some cases, that damage might be only temporary. For example, in studies quoted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse,[16] users who remained free of meth for two years had brain activity levels that were similar to those seen in people who had never touched the drug, while healing in other portions of the brain appeared in 13 months. These imaging studies show that sobriety can allow the brain to heal and the damage to fade, but some stimulant users never achieve that kind of sobriety. These users lose their lives to their struggle against addiction.People who go to jail for their cocaine use (and there are some 2,000 people[17] serving life sentences for the drug right now) often choose to return to the drug if they’re ever released. Studies suggest that the two-week window that follows a release is particularly dangerous for a stimulant addict,[18] as these people tend to die at high rates when they relapse.

Drugs and Prison Stats

Hands Behind Bars
Those who don’t ever go to prison might also lose their lives to a drug habit, as stimulants can damage the heart to such a degree that users experience heart attacks months or even years after the last hit. Now, the number of people who die due to stimulants may never reach the level of death that accompanies the use of other drugs, but it’s cynical to suggest that these deaths just don’t matter. These are still people who leave their families and communities behind, and their deaths do have a deep impact.
Stimulant damage might also be measured by the impact on a community. Sometimes, for example, drug cartels set up so-called “super labs” within residential districts, and they make up huge amounts of methamphetamine a la Walter White in the TV show Breaking Bad. But many other people create meth in small batches, and they sell the drug to friends in a barter system.

“I think the bad things that home growing produces are mainly damage to environment and to families, because meth users tend not, as a rule, to use it as teens, but in their mid-20s early 30s, so they will use around kids,” said Ralph Weisheit, criminal justice professor at Illinois State University and author of a book on methamphetamine, in an interview with the Washington Post.[19]
Residential users like this are normalizing drug use for their children and tainting the environment in which their children grow up, and it might make the damage difficult or impossible to measure.

Taking Action

contactReading up on addiction statistics and fatality rates is vital for any family preparing to discuss an addiction. But if substance abuse is happening in your household, you’ll need to do more than just talk. You’ll need to provide help.

Please call us here at The Oaks at La Paloma, and our admissions coordinators can tell you more about how treatment works and how you can motivate the person you love to heal.

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[1]Saad, L. (2012). “Majority in U.S. Drink Alcohol, Averaging Four Drinks a Week.” Gallup. Retrieved March 4, 2014.
[2]”Understanding Alcohol Use Disorders and Their Treatment.” (2012). American Psychological Association. Retrieved March 4, 2014.
[3]”Clue as to Why Alcohol is Addicting: Scientists Show that Drinking Releases Brain Endorphins.” (2012). Science Daily. Retrieved March 4, 2014.
[4]”2.5 Million Alcohol-Related Deaths Worldwide Annually.” (n.d.). National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. Retrieved March 4, 2014.
[5]”Alcohol: Death Rate per 100,000.” (2011). World Life Expectancy. Retrieved March 4, 2014.
[6]”Statistics.” (n.d.). Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Retrieved March 4, 2014.
[7]”Alcohol Abuse: Many Go Untreated.” (2009). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Retrieved March 4, 2014.
[8] Ibid.
[9]Perez, E.; Dunnan, T. & Ford, D. (Feb. 4, 2014). “Ready Access, Low Cost, Pill-Like High: Heroin’s Rise and Fatal Draw.” CNN. Retrieved March 4, 2014.
[10]Leinwand Leger, D. (June 28, 2013). “Oxy-Contin a Gateway to Heroin for Upper-Income Addicts.” USA Today. Accessed March 4, 2014.
[11]Haglage, A. (Feb. 4, 2014). “The White Collar Heroin Problem.” The Daily Beast. Accessed March 4, 2014.
[12]”Drug Facts: Heroin.” (2013) National Institute on Drug Abuse. Accessed March 4, 2014.
[13]Collins, J. (March 4, 2014). “Heroin Users’ Dirty Needles Suspected in Spread of Hepatitis C.” MPR News. Accessed March 4, 2014.
[14]Sullum, J. (Nov. 4, 2013). “Everything You’ve Heard About Crack and Meth is Wrong.” Forbes. Accessed March 4, 2014.
[15]”How Harmful is Crack Cocaine?” (Dec. 1. 2013). The Economist. Accessed March 4, 2014.
[16]”Methamphetamine: Abuse and Addiction.” (2013). National Institute on Drug Abuse. Accessed March 4, 2014.
[17]Greenhouse, L. (Jan. 5, 2014). “Crack Cocaine Limbo.” New York Times. Accessed March 4, 2014.
[18]Calcaterra, S.; Blatchford, P.; Friedmann, P.; & Binswanger, I. (Nov. 2, 2011). “Psychostimulant-Related Deaths Among Former Inmates.” Journal of Addiction Medicine. Accessed March 4, 2014.
[19]Matthews, D. (Aug. 15, 2013). “Here’s What Breaking Bad Gets Right, and Wrong, About the Meth Business.” The Washington Post. Accessed March 4, 2014.

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