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 In Addiction

In the United States, substances are a huge problem. From nicotine and alcohol to heroin and cocaine, these addictive substances harm individuals and families on a daily basis. While there are people addicted to less common substances, many other substances are quite commonly abused in the United States. By understanding some of these common addictions, it will become easier to help people by providing information and support.


Alcohol is one of the most commonly used substances in the United States. In fact, in a 2015 survey, the researchers found that 56% of people 18 or older had used alcohol sometime within the past month. Since it is a legal substance, it is readily available for people over the age of 21, and those underage individuals can easily obtain it by befriending an adult old enough to purchase it.

When a person is under the influence of alcohol, that person is likely to feel more confident socially and cognitively. They may feel prepared to do just about anything. In reality, the substance is limiting the number of inhibitory molecules in the brain. This causes a decrease in cognitive and motor functioning that can lead to dangerous consequences. At too high of a level, alcohol can cause death.

Unfortunately, as of 2015, it was found that around 15 million people 18 or older qualify for a diagnosis of alcohol use disorder, and around 620,000 people aged 12 to 17 qualify for this diagnosis. Every year, around 88,000 people die from alcohol or alcohol-related events, earning this substance the third leader in preventable deaths in the United States.


Like alcohol, tobacco is a legal substance that can be incredibly addictive and deadly. It is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, causing 1,300 people to die from tobacco-related illnesses every day. Anyone age 18 or older can buy tobacco, and younger people can simply have an adult friend purchase it for them.

The addictive ingredient in tobacco is nicotine, which is a stimulant. This drug is a vasoconstrictor, meaning that it squeezes blood vessels and raises blood pressure. Nicotine can make the user feel less anxious, but the health side effects are not worth the somewhat short-term relief. When being manufactured, nicotine is filled with other chemicals that have an array of adverse health consequences ranging from heart disease to cancer.

In 2017, a survey found that 14% of Americans aged 18 or older currently smoke cigarettes daily. Every day, around 2000 people smoke for the first time, while about 300 people begin a daily habit. Despite these discouraging facts, public health campaigns have managed to help change attitudes toward smoking. Almost 70% of adults who smoke report wanting to quit, and around 50% report having made some sort of attempt to quit within the past year.


The abuse of opioids has become an epidemic in the United States. In 2015, 2 million people reported addiction to painkillers and almost 600,000 reported addiction to heroin. Experts estimate that around 25% of people who use heroin will go on to develop an opioid addiction disorder. Opioids cause the most accidental deaths in the United States, causing about 52,000 overdose deaths in 2015.

An opioid includes heroin, fentanyl, and prescription painkillers such as oxycodone and morphine. This class of molecule interacts with opioid receptors found throughout the nervous system to relieve pain and cause intense feelings of euphoria. The euphoria is the driving force behind opioid addictions because users seek out the feeling repeatedly. Some people become addicted after being prescribed painkillers, but people are increasingly starting off their addiction to heroin.

From 1999 to 2008, the overdose rate jumped by four times, and, from 1999 to 2010, the sale of prescription painkillers increased by a factor of four. More recently, more than 90% of people in treatment for opioid use disorders said that they used heroin first because it is cheaper and more available than prescription painkillers. To date, the opioid epidemic is the worst drug epidemic in United States history, and a solution is still desperately being hunted for.


In the 1980s, crack cocaine use became a startling epidemic in the United States before tapering off, but it is becoming more popular. Many addiction experts are beginning to worry that there is another cocaine epidemic looming since attitudes toward the drug are becoming more relaxed with younger people. As of now though, the use of cocaine in young people (ages 12-17) has remained very low compared to rates of use in 1999.

Cocaine, like nicotine, is a stimulant. It causes an immediate rush of pleasure, along with feelings of invincibility, happiness, and increased sex drive. Some people will experience more negative feelings like paranoia, anxiety, and sleep disturbance. People who use the drug long-term are likely to experience loss of cognitive function, weight loss, depression, anxiety, psychosis, and many other permanent issues. As with opioids, one can also overdose on cocaine.

About 40% of drug-related emergency room visits were caused by cocaine abuse in 2011. In 2014, 913,000 people met the criteria for a cocaine-related disorder in the United States. About 1.5 million people aged 12 or older reported, in 2014, being cocaine users within the past month, and, also in 2014, 1.4% of people aged 18-25 reported the use of cocaine within the past month. Since 2017, reported rates of cocaine use have begun to slowly creep up, which has caused people who work in the addiction field some worry.

This list of addiction is by no means exhaustive. There are many different substances and behaviors one can become addicted to, and those are just as important. This list is made to provide some information on some of the most common addictions people will encounter, allowing one to help and support others as needed.

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