A Variety of Drug Disorders Has Affected 10% of Americans

May 7, 2007

BETHESDA, Md. -- About one American in 10 has had a problem with legal or illegal drug use, according to researchers here.

BETHESDA, Md., May 7 -- About one American in 10 has had a problem with legal or illegal drug use according to researchers here.

That figure includes about one in 50 who has been frankly dependent on drugs at some point, according to Wilson Compton, M.D., of the National Institute on Drug Abuse here.

These data come from face-to-face interviews with 43,093 persons in the 2001-2002 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, Dr. Compton and colleagues reported in the May issue of Archives of General Psychiatry.

The survey is the first in more than 16 years to try to get a handle on drug use among American adults, the researchers said.

"Although extensive data on drug use in the U.S. population have been available on an ongoing basis for adults and adolescents," they reported, "epidemiologic data on the prevalence, correlates, disability, treatment and comorbidity of drug use disorders among adults are seldom collected."

Using DSM-IV definitions, the survey used a validated questionnaire aimed at discerning details of alcohol and drug use disorders, nicotine dependence, mood and anxiety disorders, and seven of the 10 personality disorders, the researchers said.

The questionnaire asked about the use of sedatives, tranquilizers, opiates (other than heroin), stimulants, hallucinogens, cannabis, cocaine (including crack cocaine), inhalants/solvents, heroin, and other drugs.

The study found:

  • 10.3% of Americans had drug-use disorder at some point in their lives.
  • That was broken down into drug abuse (7.7%) and drug dependence (2.6%).
  • Over the year immediately prior to the interview, 2.0% of Americans reported a drug-use disorder.
  • That broke down into 1.4% reporting drug abuse and 0.6% reporting drug dependence.

Rates of abuse and dependence were significantly higher (at P

Over a lifetime, only 8.1% or the people who reported drug abuse sought help compared with 37.9% of those who reported drug dependence. There was no association with sociodemographic characteristics, the researchers reported, but those with psychiatric comorbidity were more likely to seek help for drug use disorder.

By design, the study only presents a snapshot of drug use disorders, the researchers said, although a follow-up longitudinal study is intended to further investigate the stability of the observed relationships in the general population.

The survey shows that "DSM-IV drug abuse and dependence are prevalent, highly disabling disorders that often go untreated," the researchers concluded, calling for "immediate action" to educate physicians, the public and policy makers about drug use disorders and their treatment."