DrugFacts: Nationwide Trends

Revised August 2012

A major source of information on substance use, abuse, and dependence among Americans aged 12 and older is the annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Following are facts and statistics on substance use in America from 2010, the most recent year for which NSDUH survey data have been analyzed.

Illicit Drug Use

Illicit drug use in America has been increasing. In 2010, an estimated 22.6 million Americans aged 12 or older—or 8.9 percent of the population—had used an illicit drug or abused a psychotherapeutic medication (such as a pain reliever, stimulant, or tranquilizer) in the past month. This is up from 8.3 percent in 2002. The increase mostly reflects a recent rise in the use of marijuana, the most commonly used illicit drug.

Drug Use by Americans aged 12 or older, as of 2010. Numbers in millions - Illicit drugs: 22.6, Marijuana: 17.4, Psychotheraputics: 7.0, Cocaine: 1.5, Hallucinogens: 1.2, Inhalants: 0.7, Heroin: 0.2. Marijuana use has increased since 2007. In 2010, there were 17.4 million current (past-month) users—about 6.9 percent of people aged 12 or older—up from 14.4 million (5.8 percent) in 2007.

Graph showing that percent of drug users has remained steady over the last decade with notable, but slight increases in illicit drug and marijuana use over the last 5 years.Use of most drugs other than marijuana has not changed appreciably over the past decade or has declined. In 2010, 7.0 million Americans aged 12 or older (or 2.7 percent) had used psychotherapeutic prescription drugs non-medically (without a prescription or in a manner or for a purpose not prescribed) in the past month—similar to previous years. And 1.2 million Americans (0.5 percent) had used hallucinogens (a cate-gory that includes Ecstasy and LSD) in the past month—unchanged from previ-ous years.

Cocaine use has gone down in the last few years; from 2006 to 2010, the number of current users aged 12 or older dropped from 2.4 million to 1.5 million. Methamphetamine use has also dropped, from 731,000 current users in 2006 to 353,000 in 2010.

Most people use drugs for the first time when they are teenagers. There were 3.0 million new users (initiates) of illicit drugs in 2010, or about 8,100 new users per day. Over one-half (57 per-cent) were under 18.

More than half of new illicit drug users begin with marijuana. Next most common is prescription pain relievers, followed by inhalants (which is most common among younger teens).

Pie-chart showing that of 3.0 million new users of illicit drugs Marijuana is the most used at 61.8%. Others include Prescription Pain Relievers at 17.3%, Inhalants at 9.0%, Tranquilizers at 4.6%, Hallucinogens at 3.0%, Stimulants at 2.5%, Sedatives at 1.9%, Cocaine at 0.1% and Heroin at 0.1%. Drug use is highest among people in their late teens and twenties. In 2010, 23.1 percent of 18- to 20-year-olds reported using an illicit drug in the past month.

Graph showing that among age groups, drug use is highest amongst 18- to 20-year -olds and has increased slightly amongst almost all age groups surveyed between 2009 and 2010.

For more information on drug use among adolescents, see Drug Facts: High School and Youth Trends.

Drug use is increasing among people in their fifties. This is, at least in part, due to the aging of the baby boomers, whose rates of illicit drug use have historically been higher than those of previous cohorts.

Graph showing that drug use in general is increasing among people in their '50s.


Drinking by underage persons (ages 12–20) has declined. Current alcohol use by this age group declined from 28.8 to 26.3 percent between 2002 and 2010, while binge drinking declined from 19.3 to 17.0 percent and the rate of heavy drinking went from 6.2 to 5.1 percent.

Binge and heavy drinking are more prevalent among men than among women. In 2010, 30.9 percent of men 12 and older and 15.7 percent of women reported binge drinking (five or more drinks on the same occasion) in the past month; and 10.1 percent of men and 3.4 percent of women reported heavy alcohol use (binge drinking on at least five separate days in the past month).

Driving under the influence of alcohol has also declined slightly. In 2010, an estimated 28.8 million people, or 11.4 percent of persons aged 12 or older, had driven under the influence of alcohol at least once in the past year, down from 14.2 percent in 2002. Although this decline is encouraging, any driving under the influence remains a cause for concern.


Fewer Americans are smoking. In 2010, an estimated 58.3 million Americans aged 12 or older, or 23 percent of the population, were current (past month) cigarette smokers. This reflects a continual but slow downward trend from 2002, when the rate was 26 per-cent.

Teen smoking is declining more rapidly. The rate of past-month cigarette use among 12- to 17-year-olds went from 13 percent in 2002 to 8.3 percent in 2010.

Graph showing that among teenagers, smoking has shown a rapid decrease over the last decade.

Dependence/Abuse and Treatment

In 2010, 17.9 million Americans (7.0 percent of the population) were dependent on alcohol or had problems related to their use of alcohol (abuse). This number is basically unchanged since 2002.

After alcohol, marijuana has the highest rate of dependence or abuse among all drugs. In 2010, 4.5 million Americans met clinical criteria for dependence or abuse of marijuana in the past year—more than twice the number for dependence/abuse of pain relievers (1.9 million) and four times the number for dependence/abuse of cocaine (1 mil-lion).

Graph showing that, excluding alcohol, marijuana has the highest rate of abuse or  dependency for Americans. This is followed by, in decreasing order, Prescription Pain Relievers, Cocaine, Tranquilizers, Hallucinogens, Heroin, Stimulants, Sedatives, and Inhalants. There continues to be a large “treatment gap” in this country. In 2010, an estimated 23.1 million Americans (9.1 percent) needed treatment for a problem related to drugs or alcohol, but only about 2.6 million people (1 percent) received treatment.

Learn More

Complete NSDUH findings are available at

About the Survey

The NSDUH is conducted every year by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Survey respondents report whether they have used specific substances ever in their lives (lifetime), over the past year, and over the past month. It is generally believed that past year and past month are the better indicators of actual use; past-month use is also referred to as “current use.” Approximately 67,500 people responded to the survey in 2010.


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