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Alcohol Abuse Vs. Prescription Drug Abuse by the Numbers

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While some people can use alcohol or prescription drugs and never experience a problem, others develop addictions or a habit of abuse that affects their home, school, or work life. In general, abuse of any substance is defined by the effect it has on your life. Many more people use and abuse alcohol than prescription drugs, although the trends differ between age groups.

Alcohol and Drug Use Survey

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, sixteen million people in America took a prescription drug for nonmedical purposes in the year 2009. Vicodin abuse was particularly high among high school students, with eight percent of twelfth graders reporting that they had taken Vicodin recreationally in the last year and almost three percent of eighth graders reporting recreational Vicodin use. About five percent of twelfth graders and two percent of eighth graders reported taking OxyContin recreationally during 2009. Of teens who abused prescription drugs, seventy percent of the twelfth graders in a 2010 survey reported that they got the drugs from a friend or relative. After marijuana , prescription drugs and over-the-counter medication used recreationally make up the bulk of drug abuse among teens.

Prescription Drug Abuse Survey

In the population as a whole, 5.1 million people reported taking pain relievers recreationally in the last month, according to a 2010 survey. Another 2.2 million people reported taking tranquilizers without a prescription in the preceding month, and 1.1 million people reported taking stimulants recreationally during the same time period. Less than half a million people reported abuse of sedatives within the month prior to the survey. The highest rates of drug abuse were found in people in their late teens and early twenties, although rates of drug use and abuse among people over fifty has increased significantly over the last decade. Because Americans over the age of 65 take about one third of the prescription drugs in the country and because many modern prescription drugs are more addictive and have a higher potential for abuse than drugs of the past, the risk of prescription drug addiction and abuse in the elderly population is higher than ever. Based on current trends, research published in the scholarly journal “Annals of Epidemiology” indicated that by 2020, there may be as many as 2.7 million elderly Americans addicted to or abusing prescription drugs, an increase of about 190 percent from 2001 levels.

Alcohol Abuse Survey

While slightly over fifty percent of people over the age of eighteen report that they are regular drinkers and another fourteen percent report that they are occasional drinkers, only about three percent of women and six percent of men report drinking every day. About thirty percent of women and forty three percent of men report binge drinking, having more than four or five drinks in a two-hour period, at least once within the past year.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, alcohol use among teens it at historically low levels. In a 2012 survey, about twenty eight percent of twelfth graders reported getting drunk in the past month and about twenty three percent of twelfth graders reported binge drinking, having more than five drinks in a row, during the two weeks preceding the survey. Among eighth graders, only 3.6 percent reported getting drunk during the preceding month.

When it comes to dangerous behavior while abusing alcohol, about eleven percent of people surveyed in 2011 reported driving under the influence of alcohol at least once in the past year. About 16.7 million Americans can be classified as alcoholics or alcohol abusers as of 2011, a decline of about 7.7 percent since 2002. Both heavy drinking and binge drinking were more common in men than in women.

Alcohol and Drug Treatment

While some of the trends in alcohol abuse and prescription drug use are promising, such as the decreasing levels of drug and alcohol abuse by teens, other trends are more disturbing. One trend that needs to change overall is the number of people who get treatment when they do become addicted or start to abuse drugs. Less than one percent of those who meet the criteria for drug or alcohol abuse or addiction received treatment at a specialized facility in 2011, indicating a major gap in treatment for those who need it.