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How Does Drug Use Begin? Survey of Drug Users in the U.S.

It can be a challenge to see something bad develop over time, as each incremental increase can seem okay in the moment. This can be true of those who become addicted to illicit drugs; certain risky behaviors can develop into more problematic ones until it eventually turns into a seemingly irreversible compulsion. Still, as it is the case with any other difficult situation, there are always avenues to getting help and ending a drug addiction. It’s never too late to turn over a new leaf—that’s why it’s our mission to connect those who need assistance with treatment centers.

We aim to provide information to those who may be addicted and to anyone who may have concerns about someone they know. For that reason, we decided to dig deeper into how drug use begins by running an anonymous survey on the subject.

Drug Survey Results

We asked 1500 respondents, who had self-reported that they have or do use illicit drugs, questions related to when and why they started, which substances they’ve used, the length of their addiction, what the breaking point was, and more. Our results showed notable differences in age groups for many of the questions asked, as well as how important a person’s support system is to avoiding drug use or getting clean.

Drug Use Statistics By Age

Our data showed that individuals start using drugs at the age of 21 or younger for the most part (64%). However, a significant number of Americans begin using at the age of 30 or older (22%), which is different than what many would expect. Additionally, we found that Millennials were more likely than Generation X or Baby Boomers to start using drugs at age 13 or younger—the portion of each that reported this are 8.4%, 7.0%, and 6.4%, respectively.

What Makes Drug Users Begin Using?

Beyond when they started using, we also wanted to learn why they started. Our results show that the top three reasons for drug use were “it was a social activity” (55%), depression/loneliness (29%), and peer pressure (23%). Knowing what leads people to use can be helpful in both preventing it and treating it. The other two common reasons we found are self-medication of a physical ailment or pain (20%) and became addicted after getting prescribed medication (11%).

Peer Pressure On And By Drug Users

Considering that the number one reason people start using is “it was a social activity,” it’s no surprise to see that peer pressure is common in drug users’ lives. Our data shows that 46% of Americans who have used drugs in their life have been pressured to do so. Men are slightly more likely to experience this than women (48% and 45%, respectively). We also found that 27% of users have pressured someone else to use an illicit substance.

The First Illicit Drug Used

Our results show that 3 in 4 drug users first started with marijuana (weed), while 1 in 4 started with something else. While it seems that marijuana dominates this measure, it’s significant that 26% of people who have used drugs started with something many would consider a “hard” substance, especially when many start at a young age.

Common substances abused

The most common drugs that people reportedly abused are marijuana (69.5%), cocaine (32.1%), and prescription drugs (31.8%). Generationally, Baby Boomers have a higher rate of abuse of cocaine (36.3%) as well as LSD (16.4%) than younger groups. Generation X is more likely to use opioids (29.3%), methamphetamines (26.8%), “shrooms” (16.4%), ecstasy (17.1%), or heroin (12.5%) than those of other ages. Millennials show the highest rate of abuse of marijuana (71.2%), prescription drugs (34.6%), or MDMA (“Molly”) (12.9%).

How Long Does Drug Addiction Last?

Our data revealed that for around 1 in 3 drug users, their addiction will last for 1 year or less; 67% will experience an addiction that lasts 2 or more years, and of that, 37% will be addicted for 6 or more years. Men are 17% more likely than women to be addicted to illicit substances for 6 years or more.

Most Common Reason for Stopping Drug Use

External circumstances can help users start working to end their addiction, so we wanted to learn more about which ones have the most significant impact. The results overall show the top three reasons are ‘had a child’ (22%), ‘the physical effects of it became too much’ (17%), and ‘began a job’ (12%).

The results for men and women show a notable difference. Female respondents rate ‘had a child’ (26%), ‘the physical effects of it became too much’ (18%), and ‘friend intervention or support’ (11%) as the three most significant factors. However, the top results for men are ‘began a job’ (18%), ‘the physical effects of it became too much’ (13%), and ‘ran out of money’ (12%).

We also asked respondents about the worst consequences of drug use, in their opinion. According to those who have gone through it themselves, the most burdensome effects are ‘it cost a lot of money’ (36%), ‘the physical toll on my body’ (20%), and ‘it damaged or ended friendships or relationships’ (16%).

An individual’s addiction is very much an individual case, but surveys like these help us to identify trends in behavior and risk factors. Only 1 in 4 people who use illicit substances report having spent time in a rehab facility, which we know to be one of the most successful methods to overcoming addiction. These treatment centers are especially important knowing that 2 in 5 users say they don’t have the support around them that they need to stop using. We hope that with reports like this one, we can better understand the circumstances around addiction, and therefore serve those in need more effectively.

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