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Research Summary

National Survey Reveals Increased Drug Use by Adults, with Few Receiving Treatment

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) provides data on prevalence and correlates of substance use, mental illness, related problems, and treatment among a representative sample of the US general population aged 12 years and older. Results of the study for 2007, representing interviews with 67,870 participants using computer-assisted techniques to maximize truth-telling about sensitive topics, identify several important findings.

  • Eight percent of the population had used an illicit drug in the preceding month.

  • Illicit drug use among person 55–59 years old has more than doubled since 2002.

  • Prescription drug abuse decreased among 12–17 year olds but increased among young adults aged 18–25.

  • The illicit drug categories with the largest number of past-year initiates among persons aged 12 or older were nonmedical use of pain relievers (2.1 million) and marijuana use (2.1 million).

  • Pain relievers used nonmedically were most often obtained from a friend or relative, and from a drug dealer, stranger, or over the Internet only 5% of the time.

  • Twenty-nine percent of the population used a tobacco product in the prior month. Smoking rates among youth declined, but their use of smokeless tobacco increased.

  • Only 1 in 10 persons eligible for treatment for illicit drug or alcohol use received treatment in a dedicated program. Of those not receiving treatment, 1.3 million reported feeling a need for it.


These prevalence data highlight the public health potential of more widespread implementation of screening and brief intervention for substance use. Rates of substance use among older persons may continue to increase as the baby boom cohort, with its higher lifetime rates of use, ages. The gulf between treatment eligibility and participation poses a major challenge to clinicians in office-based practice, where the need to improve strategies for engaging drug and alcohol users in effective treatment remains high.

Marc N. Gourevitch, MD, MPH



Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Results from the 2007 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings. Rockville, MD: Office of Applied Studies, NSDUH Series H-34 (DHHS Publication No. SMA 08-4343); 2008.