Although more people have an addiction to alcohol than to any other substance, when it comes to drugs you might be surprised which are most commonly abused. While you may associate drug addicts with cocaine and heroin users, far more people in the United States are dependent on marijuana than the two illicit substances combined. Indeed, figures reported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse show that in 2012 there were 4.3 million people in the US who met criteria for a diagnosis of marijuana dependence, compared to 1.1 million for cocaine and 0.5 million for heroin. Another surprise might be that after cannabis dependency, it isn’t another illicit drug that takes second place, but prescription painkillers, with 2.1 million Americans suffering from prescription opiate dependency. Tranquilizers and stimulants, including those to treat ADHD symptoms, also both come ahead of heroin in the rank of most common addictions, with heroin dependency only more common than that to hallucinogens and sedatives.
Trends in Drug Addiction
Widespread use of marijuana in comparison to other illegal drugs is partly fueled by the fact that cannabis is regarded a far safer substance. This belief isn’t just held by adults, as a report by the National Institutes of Health reveals that an increasing number of 8th graders regard smoking marijuana as harmless. However, when you consider that addiction to cannabis can occur with long-term use and chronic use increases the risk of heart and lung disease, depression, anxiety and schizophrenia, this is far from the case. While legalization of marijuana for medical use has been suggested as one driver behind marijuana abuse, research does not suggest a link between the two. As it is difficult to generalize the characteristics of a typical marijuana user, the appeal of the drug to a wide section of the population may also explain why so many people are dependent on marijuana compared to other substances.
As with marijuana, there is a misconception that prescription drugs are a safer option, with people preferring to abuse opiate painkillers to heroin or ADHD stimulants to speed. The lack of awareness about the dangers of prescription medication is therefore partly to blame for why with these drugs addiction is increasingly common. Another factor that makes prescription pills attractive is that they are readily available. It is easy to obtain them from acquaintances, especially as knowledge of the dangers of sharing prescribed medication is poor, but it has also been possible to access them from doctors and pharmacies. For instance, inappropriate prescribing of opioids and poor monitoring of patients who take these drugs has made it far easier for people to develop an opioid dependency, though more emphasis is now placed on prescriber education to tackle this issue. Prescription databases for controlled substances are now making it more difficult for addicts to go “doctor shopping” for extra prescriptions or to forge prescription requests, which has been another factor driving medication abuse.
Risk Factors for Drug Addiction
Although drug addiction can affect anyone and addicts come from all sections of the population, there are certain factors that make someone more likely to misuse substances and become a drug addict. Identifying with any of these factors is not a given that you will develop an addiction to drugs, but the more that are relevant to your situation increases your risk. Among the most important influences for drug abuse listed by a Government resource are:
- Associating with others who use drugs, especially if they expect you to join in
- Early behavioral problems
- Poor self-esteem or psychological problems, particularly if you do not have appropriate coping mechanisms
- Poor academic achievement and commitment to school
- Little knowledge of healthy behaviors
- Little involvement in recreational or social activities
- Family history of substance abuse
- Little time spent with family
- Limited parental supervision and unclear boundaries
- Job loss
- Drugs easily available in the community where you live and their use is tolerated
- Living in an economically deprived area
- Feeling disconnected from your community
Risk factors for abusing prescription drugs are similar to those for illicit drugs, though an addiction to alcohol or another substance makes prescription medication abuse more likely. Working in an environment where prescription drugs are readily available, such as in health care, is an additional factor that makes you more susceptible. While young people are likely to abuse prescribed medications, the same is true of older adults as well. This is because with advancing age, complex health problems increase the likelihood of multiple prescriptions, and when taken alongside alcohol the risk is even greater.