Elevated Rates of Drug Abuse Continue for Second Year

June 2012

Illicit drug use continued at elevated rates in 2010, after rising in 2009 to its highest level since 2002, according to the latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). Nearly 9 percent of Americans aged 12 and older—an estimated 22.6 million people—reported using illicit drugs in the month prior to the survey.

The survey, released in September 2011, showed that marijuana use was the major driver of the higher rates over the past 2 years; past-month marijuana use rose from about 6.1 percent in 2008 to 6.9 percent—representing about 17.4 million people—in 2010.

This line graph shows that illicit drug use and marijuana use, after being relatively stable since 2002, rose from 2008 to 2010. Use of cocaine fell over that same 2-year period, and use of hallucinogens and nonmedical use of prescription dCause for Concern A rise in marijuana use drove up overall illicit drug use from 2008 to 2010, while use of cocaine fell and use of hallucinogens

The survey also disclosed that use of cocaine fell from 0.7 percent in 2008 to 0.6 percent in 2010, extending a favorable trend that began in 2006–2007. Use rates for hallucinogens and prescription drugs used nonmedically were similar to those for 2008 and 2009.

Rates of illicit drug use in 2010 varied by age, with the highest (21.5 percent) among young adults, aged 18 to 25, and the lowest (1.1 percent) among seniors, aged 65 and older. 

Rates of alcohol use in 2010, including binge and heavy drinking, were similar to those for 2009. But drinking among adolescents, aged 12 to 17, declined from 14.7 percent in 2009 to 13.6 percent in 2010. Adolescents also reported a decline in the use of tobacco products, from 11.6 percent in 2009 to 10.7 percent in 2010.

Among the other findings in 2010:

  • Illicit drug use was more prevalent among unemployed adults aged 18 and older (17.5 percent) than among adults employed full-time (8.4 percent) or part-time (11.2 percent).
  • Illicit drugs with the highest levels of past-year dependence or abuse were marijuana (an estimated 4.5 million people), pain relievers (1.9 million), and cocaine (1 million).
  • Only 11.2 percent of people who were found to need substance abuse treatment received such treatment in a specialty facility.

The 2010 results are based on responses from 67,500 civilians nationwide who do not live in institutions. The annual NSDUH survey is sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.


Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2011. Results from the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings, NSDUH Series H-41, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 11-4658. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

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