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Addiction Statistics: How Big of a Problem Is It?

A. Tom Horvath, Ph.D., ABPP, Kaushik Misra, Ph.D., Amy K. Epner, Ph.D., and Galen Morgan Cooper, Ph.D. , edited by C. E. Zupanick, Psy.D.

You might be wondering, "What's all this fuss about addiction? Just how big of a problem is addiction anyway?" Well, you are not alone. Researchers have studied (and continue to study) that very question. Researchers measure addictive behaviors in terms of a range or degree, rather than in absolutes (How often do you drink? versus Do you drink?). Typically, this means measuring the quantity or frequency of use. "How many cigarettes did you smoke today?" "How many days per week do you drink?"

research graphResearch of any type is expensive and requires funding. The largest supporter (financer) of addiction research is the United States government. In 1970, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) was established. Then in 1974, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) began. In 1992, the US government created the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). SAMHSA's primary function is to compile the results of technically complicated, scientific research about addiction and mental health. Then they transform these research results into useful, practical information to guide clinicians and the public. SAMHSA also draws on the work of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) to accomplish that goal.

The National Household Survey on Drug Use and Health was founded in 1972 by NIDA. NIDA conducted surveys periodically at first. Then in 1991, it became an annual event. It remains the largest survey on this subject. The 2010 survey was composed of approximately 67,500 individuals age 12 or older. These results are available here: http://archive.samhsa.gov/data/NSDUH/2k10nsduh/2k10results.htm

If you are not fond of numbers, we highlight the key points.

Illegal Drug Use Statistics in the United States

Data reported for 2010 (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2011):

  • 51.8% of the U.S. population aged 12 or older are current drinkers of alcohol. This means an estimated 131.3 million people currently drink alcohol. This is similar to the 2009 estimate. It also means that roughly half the population does not currently drink alcohol.
  • Nearly one quarter (23.1%) of the U.S. population aged 12 or older participated in binge drinking during past 30 days. This is about 58.6 million people. The rate in 2010 is similar to the estimate in 2009. The survey defined binge drinking as having five or more drinks at least 1 day in the 30 days prior to the survey.
  • 6.7% of the U.S. population aged 12 or older, or 16.9 million people reported heavy drinking. This rate was similar to the rate of heavy drinking in 2009. The survey defined heavy drinking as binge drinking on at least 5 days in the past 30 days.
  • 40.6% of young adults in the U.S. (age18 to 25) participated in binge drinking and the rate of heavy drinking was 13.6%. These rates were similar to the rates in 2009.
  • 12.0% of persons aged 12 or older drove under the influence of alcohol at least once in the past year. The rate of driving under the influence of alcohol was highest among persons aged 21 to 25 (23.4%).

Cigarette and Tobacco Statistics in the United States:

Data reported for 2010 (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2011):

  • 27.4% of the U.S population aged 12 or older are current (past month) users of a tobacco product (and estimated 69.6 million).
  • Between 2002 and 2010, past month use of any tobacco product decreased from 30.4 to 27.4 percent, and past month cigarette use declined from 26.0 to 23.0 percent.

Number of People Meeting Diagnostic Criteria for Substance Abuse or Dependence1:

Data reported for 2010 (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2011):

  • 8.9% of the U.S. population aged 12 or older would meet the diagnostic criteria for a drug or alcohol use disorder (substance use disorder). This was an estimated 22.1 million persons. Of these, 2.9 million were classified with a substance use disorder of both alcohol and illicit drugs. 4.2 million were classified with a substance use disorder for illicit drugs but not alcohol. 15.0 million were classified with a substance use disorder for alcohol but not illicit drugs.
  • Between 2002 and 2010, the number of persons with substance use disorders was stable.

Number of People Needing Substance Abuse Treatment2:

Data reported for 2010 (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2011):

  • 23.1 million persons aged 12 or older needed treatment for an alcohol or substance use disorder. Of these only 2.6 million people received treatment at a specialized addiction facility.
  • Of the 20.5 million persons aged 12 or older in 2010 needing substance use treatment but not receiving it, 1.0 million persons (5.0 percent) reported that they felt they needed treatment for their drug or alcohol use problem. Of these 1.0 million persons who felt they needed treatment, 341,000 (33.3 percent) reported that they made an effort to get treatment, and 683,000 (66.7 percent) reported making no effort to get treatment.

Food Addiction and Overeating Statistics in the United States:

One place to obtain data about the food and overeating problem in the United States is through the United States Centers for Disease Control www.cdc.gov

Data reported for 2007-2008 in Ogden & Carroll (2010a, 2010b):

  • 68% of the US population age 20 and older was either overweight or obese (Ogden & Carroll, 2010a).
  • 18% of adolescents ages 12-19 years are obese Ogden and Carroll (2010b).
  • 20% of children age 6-11 are obese Ogden and Carroll (2010b).
  • 10% of children age 2-5 are obese Ogden and Carroll (2010b).

Estimated Gambling Statistics in the United States:

The past year prevalence rate of gambling disorder is about 0.2%.  The lifetime prevalence rate is 0.4% to 1.0% (APA, 2013).  The federal government does not appear to track gambling problems.  The National Council on Problem Gambling estimates that 1% of the population has serious gambling problems, with another 2-3% having significant gambling problems.

Estimated Statistics of Sex and Pornography Addiction:

There appears to be no carefully collected and easily generalized statistics about sexual or pornography addiction.  This is partially because the American Psychiatric Association does not include a specific diagnosis for sexual addiction (APA, 2013).  Instead, clinicians use several non-specific diagnostic labels such as impulse control disorder not otherwise specified. Obviously many scientists and practitioners considered sexual addiction a large enough concern to consider establishing scientific criteria to study it. A review of the available scientific literature is available online (Kafka, 2009).


1 The diagnostic terms Substance Abuse and Substance Dependence are no longer used.  These terms were replaced with Substance-Related and Addictive Disorders in 2013 (APA, 2013).  However, at the time of the SAMHSA survey, these were the diagnostic terms in use. 

2 Ibid.