Drug abuse statistics: American drug abuse and addiction

In looking up some numbers for a recent post I put up on TakePart, I uncovered some amazing addiction and drug abuse statistics (most from 2007, so they’re probably higher by now).

StatisticsAddiction statistics highlights:

  • Slightly more than half of Americans surveyed indicated that they are current drinkers (I thought it’d be higher) – Meaning there were about 126 million drinkers in the country. About 57.8 million had consumed more than 5 drinks in one sitting in the month prior to the survey.
  • It is estimated that more than 30 million people in the US meet criteria for some addictive disorder including drug addiction, sex addiction, gambling addiction, and food addiction (added from SAMHSA statistics about individual addictions)!!
  • More than 15 million of those are only dependent on alcohol!!
  • The next drug on the list is, you guessed it, marijuana with 3.9 million dependent individuals!!!
  • Of the more than 23 million individuals who needed drug treatment, only 10% sought help (2.4 million).
  • The most  staggering of all numbers – The cumulative estimated cost of addictive behavior (including overeating) in the United States = $500 Billion!!! Almost half of our current budget deficit!!!

I don’t know about you, but these numbers leave me a little in awe of just how big this problem really is. Given some of the other treatment-cost posts I’ve written (see here), I once again reiterate the notion that if we shifted our focus to drug-treatment, we’d save lives and money all at the same time.

Addiction brain effects : Opiate addiction – Heroin, oxycontin and more

Okay, we’ve talked about crystal meth and cocaine and how they affect the brain during drug use. As I mentioned, both cocaine and meth interfere with the way the brain stores and cleans up important neurotransmitters, including, most importantly, Dopamine and Norepinephrine.

opiates-morphine & heroinThe class of drugs known as opiates, which includes morphine, heroin, codeine, and all their derivatives (including oxycontin), acts on the brain in a completely different manner. Since our goal at All About Addiction is to explain drug use and abuse as comprehensively as possible, let’s turn our attention to this opiate addiction next.

Heroin, morphine, oxycontin, vicodin and other opiates

While cocaine and crystal meth work by disrupting the normal functioning of molecules responsible for cleaning up released neurotransmitters, opiates work by activating actual receptors that naturally occuring neurotransmitters activate. Substance like this are known as agonists; they perform the same action (identically as, to a lesser, or greater extent) as a substance the body already manufactures.

In the case of morphine, heroin, and most other opiates, the most important receptors activated are knownOpiate Receptors as µ-opioid receptors. Activation of the µ-opioid receptors is associated with analgesia (suppression of pain), sedation, and euphoria, which makes sense given the relaxing, pleasure inducing effects of opiates.

Natural opioids (also called endogenous opioids), which include endorphins, are used by the body to relieve pain and increase relaxation, especially during periods of extreme stress. These are the chemicals that make sure we can function during accidents, like after breaking our leg…

Opioids and dopamine

Opioids also increase the amount of dopamine in the brain indirectly. As I mentioned in the earlier posts, dopamine is thought to be the reward indicator in the brain. Unlike crystal meth and cocaine, heroin and its relatives increase the activity of dopamine neurons by releasing the hold that other neurons (that use GABA) have on them. Think of this as the release of pressure on a hose spraying water on a lawn. When the pipe is pinched, only so much water can get through, but once the clasp is released, water can flow in greater quantity; this is essentially what opiates do.

Heroin addiction and long term opiate use

Like I said before, this doesn’t sound so bad, does it? All we’re talking about here is the increasing of the functioning of system that already exists in the brain. The problem isn’t so much in the process, the problem starts when this system gets activated for long periods of time.

HeroinHeroin addicts, and other frequent users of opiates complain about the extreme discomfort they feel when they stop using the drugs. This discomfort has been described as the worse case of the flu you could imagine. Doesn’t sound too appealing, does it? In fact, withdrawal symptoms associated with stopping opiate use are at least one of the main reasons many users return to the drug after trying to clean up. This in addition to all the other effects of the drug on the brain to make wanting to stop so much harder.

The reason for the pains and aches? Given the overactivation of its pain suppression system, the body not only reduces its own supply of opioids, but it also turns up the sensitivity on its pain receptors. Heroin users notice this as an increase in tolerance, but they compensate for it by simply using more. However, when they stop, they’re left with a body unable to suppress its own, hyper sensitive pain system. The results are more than uncomfortable, they’re simply excruciating…

Another common complaint of addicts is diarrhea. This, again, is simply the reversal of the constipation caused earlier by heroin’s actions on opioid receptors that are present in the peripheral system (outside the central nervous system).

I’ve heard addicts speak online about the slow recovery from opiate addiction and I want to dispell a myth here:

Opiates DO NOT stay in your system for weeks or months – The drug itself is gone from the body within days. The reason for the continued suffering is the slow adjustment of your brain and body back to the way things were before the drugs. Think of how long the tolerance took to develop… Now play the tape back in reverse. That’s what happening to you. You can help relieve the pain, but know that if you use anything in the opiate family, you’re making the process last much longer…

So, in summary: As usual, the actions of opiates on the body and brain are not all the severe, extreme, or inappropriate. Opiates are still used in medicine for pain suppression, not only because they work, but because the potential for abuse when used in this way are minimal to non-existent. However, as with all drugs, continued, chronic, abusive use of opiates will change the way your body functions in ways that will produce the exact opposite effects of those users like so much. This leaves people not only with possible addiction problems, but also with a terrifyingly uncomfortable return back to normal functioning.

Addiction help

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Latest drug addiction research from CPDD: Drug use patterns among adults

I’m currently attending the annual meeting of the College on Problems of Drug Dependence (CPDD) in Reno, NV.

Since there’s so much drug addiction research being presented here, I figured I would post a daily update with some of the things I found most interesting. There’s absolutely no way for me to see all the presentations I’m interested in, so what I get to see is what you get to hear about.

One of the interesting presentations today had to do with a broad study of drug use patterns among adults who are not drug addicts. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Alabama (who ran the CARDIA study), looked at the drug use patterns of adults enrolled in a Coronary Artery Risk study over many years. It’s important to note that drug use in this case does not include smoking, drinking alcohol, or marijuana use. The researchers also didn’t distinguish between use of different drugs for the purpose of this study.

The researchers found 4 common drug use patterns:

  1. No current use – Over 80% of the participants reported no use within a month of any of the follow-up dates. More than half of those people said they’d used at least one drug at some point in their life, but their use was not common enough to ever fall within a month of their check-ups.
  2. Early use, low frequency – About 12% of people used drugs with some frequency at an early age but then reduced their use throughout the follow-up period.
  3. Persistent use, low – These users continued to use drugs throughout the study period, but their use did not escalate.
  4. Early, persistent, use – These users started early, used a lot, and though their use tapered off, it remained higher than any other group throughout the study.

I personally think that these findings are encouraging. They show that at least within this population, only a small proportion of individuals engage in what we would consider chronic, dangerous, drug use.

I reported similar findings regarding relapse in alcoholics in another post a while back (see here), and I’m glad that statistical techniques are being used to uncover larger patterns of drug use and abuse in a more general population.

More addiction research to come. There’s almost too much to report!