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Demographics and Addiction

Addiction is a chronic, yet treatable brain condition similar to other chronic illnesses like diabetes. Addiction can affect a person’s impulse control, ability to stop using a substance, using despite risks, and physical and mental changes.1

Genetics, environment, and life experiences can all have an impact on the development and progression of addiction.2 Research has shown that addiction may have varying impacts in different people groups including race, gender, sexual identity, age, and socioeconomic status (SES).3 Addiction demographics may also impact access to treatment. People who are minorities and/or low income are often less able to access care for substance use disorders (SUDs).3

According to a nationwide survey in 2020, over 40 million Americans have a SUD, underscoring the importance of understanding how addiction affects different people.4 This page will discuss demographics of addiction for the following groups and how to seek treatment:

  • Race
  • Age
  • People identifying as LGBTQ
  • Gender
  • Veterans
  • Socioeconomic status

Demographics in the United States

The United States is a diverse country, made up of people who fall into various demographic groups. The most recent US census shows the following estimates about the population:5

  • Nearly 332 million people live in the U.S.
  • People identifying as White make up 76.3% of the population.
  • People identifying as non-Hispanic/Latino make up 60% of the population.
  • People identifying as Hispanic/Latino make up 18.5% of the population.
  • Black Americans account for 13.4% of the total population.
  • People identifying as Asian Americans make up 6% of the population.
  • Nearly 3% of the population identifies as belonging to two or more races.
  • People identifying as Native Americans make up 1.3% of the total population.

Addiction in Black Americans

According to the United States Census Bureau (USCB), Black Americans are those who descended from Black African people.6 According to a 2019 survey on drug use and health in Black Americans:7, 8

  • 3 million adults were diagnosed with a SUD.
  • Of the 2.3 million, 1.5 million had issues with alcohol, 993,000 people had issues with drugs, and 252,000 had issues with both.
  • Over 6 million used marijuana.
  • Over 1 million misused some form of opioids, with 93,000 people using heroin.
  • There were 521,000 who misused cocaine.
  • There were 81,000 who misused methamphetamines.
  • Marijuana use was highest among Black Americans.
  • Addiction to illegal drugs was second-highest among Black Americans.

In addition, Black Americans have more difficulty accessing treatment services than white Americans:3, 9

  • Up to 90% who needed treatment for a SUD didn’t receive it.9
  • Black people are significantly less likely to receive certain medications as part of treatment.
  • The number of Black Americans who receive treatment for overdose is 50% less than white,
    non-Hispanic people.3, 9
  • Fatal overdose rates are rising higher in Black Americans.3

Addiction in Asian Americans

According to the USCB, Asian Americans are people who originate from Asia or the Indian subcontinent.6 According to a 2019 survey on Asian Americans:

  • Approximately 745,000 adults were diagnosed with a SUD.10
  • 106,000 had issues with both drugs and alcohol.10
  • 582,000 aged 12 or over were diagnosed with alcohol use disorder (AUD).10
  • 52,000 were diagnosed with an opioid use disorder (OUD).10
  • 4 million struggled with marijuana use.10
  • 292,000 misused opioids, the majority of which were prescription pain medications.10
  • 205,000 misused cocaine.10
  • 35,000 misused methamphetamines.10
  • Have lower rates of marijuana, prescription opioid, and illicit drug use than other racial groups.8

Asian Americans who don’t speak the language may struggle to access services in the language they speak, or not be aware of services that are available.11 People often rely on help from within their communities including relatives, friends, and religious groups rather than traditional treatment providers.11

Addiction in Hispanic/Latino Americans

According to the US Census Bureau, Hispanic/Latino Americans are those who have origins in various countries of Central or South America, Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, or any other Spanish group no matter which race they identify as.12 According to a 2019 survey on Hispanic/Latino Americans:

  • Nearly 3 million adults were diagnosed with a SUD.13
  • Of these, 2.1 million had issues with alcohol, 1.2 million had issues with drugs, and 386,000 had issues with both.13
  • Nearly 2.2 million people aged 12 or over were diagnosed with AUD.13
  • 2 million struggled with marijuana use.13
  • 169,000 were diagnosed with an OUD.13
  • 8 million misused opioids, the majority of which were prescription pain medications.13
  • 970,000 misused cocaine.13
  • 288,000 misused methamphetamines.13
  • Rates of marijuana use, heroin use, and OUD are very low in this group.8

Hispanic/Latino Americans often struggle with accessing treatment and have the lowest rates of receiving addiction treatment.9

Addiction in Native Americans

According to the US Census Bureau, Native Americans are classified as having origins in the indigenous people of North, South, and Central America, and are affiliated with a tribe or community.6 According to a 2019 survey on Native Americans:

  • 142,000 adults were diagnosed with a SUD.14
  • 101,000 had an AUD.14
  • 15,000 were diagnosed with an OUD.14
  • 314,000 struggled with marijuana use.14
  • 80,000 misused opioids, nearly all of which were prescription pain medications.14
  • 22,000 misused cocaine.14
  • 29,000 misused methamphetamines.14
  • Fatal overdose rates are increasing among Native Americans.3

Because of poverty, intergenerational trauma, and long-term abuse, Native Americans are more likely than other groups to have limited access to addiction treatment.15 This can be even more pronounced in people who live on reservations, where access to all types of healthcare is limited.15

Older Adults and Addiction

While there is no formal definition for what is considered “older adults” in the United States, this group is commonly identified as being age 65 or older.16, 17 The most recent census identified that 16.5% of the population is age 65 or older.5 Addiction in the elderly, or older adults has become a growing concern. Statistics show that among older adults:

  • Almost 1 million had a SUD in 2018.17
  • Alcohol is the most used substance, with most seeking treatment for alcohol use.17
  • Over 5% used marijuana in 2019, the lowest rates of all age groups.8
  • Opioid use disorder has increased.17

Addiction in LGBTQ Population

While the USCB has only more recently started tracking demographics for people identifying as LGBTQ, a recent analysis shows that around 20 million (8%) adults in the US identify as LGBTQ.18 Of these, greater than 2 million people (1%) identify as transgender, and 4% of people identify as bisexual.18 According to a 2019 survey on LGBTQ adults:

  • There were 2.6 million who were diagnosed with a SUD.19
  • 7 million struggled with alcohol use, 1.4 million struggled with drug use, and 426,000 struggled with both.19
  • More than 1.7 million were diagnosed with an AUD.19
  • 263,000 were diagnosed with an OUD.19
  • 3 million reported using marijuana.19
  • 4 million misused some form of opioids, with 141,000 using heroin.19
  • 1 million misused cocaine.19
  • 411,000 misused methamphetamines.19

People identifying as LGBTQ face unique challenges in accessing treatment and are at significantly greater risk for issues with substance misuse and addiction.20 They are at increased risk of harassment, violence, discrimination, and stigmatization.20, 21 Treatment programs may not be sensitive to the unique needs and challenges faced by this population, which can also include co-occurring mental health disorders.20

Addiction in Women

According to the USCB, more than half (50.8%) of the U.S. population is made up of females.5 Statistics from 2019 about women and addiction show that:

  • 5% were diagnosed with some type of SUD.8
  • Nearly 4% were diagnosed with an AUD.8
  • 5% were diagnosed with an OUD.8
  • 4% were diagnosed with a DUD.8
  • About 14.8% reported marijuana use.8
  • 16% reported using heroin.8
  • 2% misused opioid pain medications.8

Addiction affects women differently, and gender has an impact on treatment for women as well. Women have more barriers to treatment, including lack of childcare, prior trauma, fear of legal repercussions, and being prescribed medications that have been extensively tested on males only.3, 22

Pregnancy can have a significant impact on addiction and how it is treated, requiring specialized care to ensure both the health of the mother and the unborn baby.22, 23

Addiction in Men

Men are affected differently by addiction than women, and may also have different treatment needs. According to the USCB, slightly less than half of the U.S. population (49.2%) is male.5 According to a 2019 survey on males:8, 22

  • They are more likely to be diagnosed with an OUD, a DUD, AUD, and any type of SUD.
  • Males are significantly more likely to use heroin and misuse prescription opioids.

Since the majority of addiction and treatment research is focused on male participants only, treatment techniques and medication may be more influenced by that research.22 Treatment needs for males may focus on addressing trauma, grief, anger management, and interpersonal relationships.

Veterans and Addiction

According to the USCB, more than 18 million people in the U.S. are veterans.5 After exposure to trauma, such as an assault or military combat, it’s possible for veterans to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).24, 25

Veterans with PTSD may turn to alcohol or drugs to self-medicate.25 In addition, military culture often encourages unhealthy drinking habits, which can progress when a veteran is struggling to reintegrate into civilian life or has been injured.26 Statistics on veterans and addiction show:

  • There were 1.3 million who were diagnosed with a SUD.27
  • Of these, 1 million had issues with alcohol, 343,000 had issues with drugs, and 98,000 had issues with both.27
  • 26 million had an AUD, and 139,000 had an OUD.27
  • 6 million used marijuana.27
  • 223,000 used cocaine.27
  • 109,000 used methamphetamines.27

Blue-collar Americans and Addiction

Blue-collar workers are people who perform manual work, such as construction, food service, and as drivers. About 40% of the population worked blue-collar jobs in 2020.28 People in blue-collar jobs may not always have access to private health insurance, enough funds to pay for treatment, or paid time off to attend rehab, which can strongly impact the type of care that is received.3 Studies on employment show that:

  • Blue-collar workers typically have higher rates of alcohol and drug use, and SUDs.29
  • Industries with the highest rates of SUDs include hospitality and food services, construction, entertainment, mining, and utilities.29

Addiction in White-collar Americans

White-collar workers are employed in professional environments, such as offices, the medical field, and schools. In 2020, nearly 60% of the population was considered white collar.28

People in white-collar jobs may have increased access to private health insurance, paid time off for treatment, and in some cases, can afford out-of-pocket costs for treatment, which makes it easier to get professional help.3 Studies on employment show that:

  • White-collar workers tend to have lower rates of alcohol and drug use and SUD.29
  • Industries with the lowest rates of SUD include education, medical and mental health providers, social assistance, and public administration.29

Learn About Treatment Options

To learn more about treatment, contact the American Addiction Centers helpline 24/7 at . Our knowledgeable admissions navigators can help you find a treatment that is tailored to your demographic needs, answer any questions you may have, and help you check insurance coverage. You can also contact free alcohol and drug addiction hotline numbers.