Major Findings Of The Survey

The NHSDA has tracked the changing nature of drug abuse since 1971. At the time of the first survey, about 10 percent of the population age twelve and older had ever used illicit drugs. This was estimated to be more than double the rate of lifetime use as of the early 1960s. In 1998, an estimated 13.6 million persons or 6.2 percent of the American population of 12 years of age or older were current illicit drug users, meaning they had used an illicit drug in the month prior to interview. The report for current use showed that more than one drug had been used by some of the total 13.6 million, with a breakdown of this figure as follows: Some 11 million reported using marijuana or HASHISH; an estimated 1.8 million cocaine; and 130,000 heroin. The rate of current use of inhalants by Americans has remained steady since 1991 (between 0.3-0.4 percent of the population). The rate of current use of HALLUCINOGENS and Prescription Drugs was estimated at 0.7 percent and 1.1 percent respectively in 1998. By 1998, the estimated number of persons who had tried meth-amphetamine in their lifetime was 4.7 million (2.1 percent of the population). Current use of illicit drugs reached a peak in 1979 when the estimate was 25 million, or 13.7 percent of the population.

All the NHSDAs conducted since 1971 have shown that marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug, with current use at 5 percent in 1998. Marijuana initiation among youths 12-17 was at its highest level ever from 1995-1997. Current cocaine use reached a peak in 1985 at 3.0 percent, but the survey showed declines in cocaine use after 1985, to 0.7 percent in 1992. The percentage of current cocaine use did not change significantly between 1992 and 1998.

The NHSDA has shown varying rates of use in different segments of the population. The highest rates of current illicit drug use were found among young people age 18-20 (19.9 percent) in 1998. The rates of use generally decline in each successively older age group, with only 0.7 percent of persons age 50 and older reporting current illicit use.

The surveys have also shown that while illicit drug use occurs in all segments of society, prevalence rates have been greatest among males; in metropolitan areas; and among high-school dropouts. According to the 1998 report, although the rate of drug use was higher among the unemployed, most drug users were employed. The rate of current illicit drug use was also found somewhat higher among blacks (8.2 percent) than among whites (6.1 percent) and Hispanics (6.1 percent). With respect to absolute numbers in the 1998 report, however, most current illicit drug users were white.

The increase in marijuana use among youths age 12-17 has important implications for substance abuse prevention and treatment efforts. In terms of prevention, there is an obvious need to focus immediate attention on children and adolescents. In the long run, the expanding pool of young people using illicit drugs will probably result in continuing pressure on the substance abuse treatment system in future years, as many new drug users progress to addiction and require intervention.

(SEE ALSO: Drug Abuse Warning Network; Drug Use Forecasting Program; High School Senior Survey; U.S. Government Agencies: National Institute on Drug Abuse)


1998 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (1994). National household survey on drug abuse: Main findings 1992. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (1993). National household survey on drug abuse: Population estimates 1992. DHHS Pub. no. (SMA) 93-2053. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Turner, C. F., Lessler, J. T., & Gfroerer, J. C. (1992). Survey measurement of drug use: Methodological studies. National Institute on Drug Abuse, DHHS Pub. no. (ADM) 92-1929. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

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