National Recovery Month: Current Trends in Substance Use and Mental Health

National Recovery Month: Current Trends in Substance Use and Mental Health
by on September 8, 2015 in ,

September is National Recovery Month, an observance started 20 years ago by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT) and the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD).

This is a good time to reflect on the current status of substance use and mental health in the U.S. as well as emerging new drug trends that are creating headlines.

Important Findings

Here’s an overview of findings from SAMSHA’s 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, using statistics collected in 2013. According to the data, in 2013:

  • 24.6 million Americans aged 12 or older were current (past month) illicit drug users. This represents 9.4 percent of the population aged 12 or older. Marijuana was reported as being the most commonly used illicit drug, with 19.8 million current users aged 12 or older (7.5 percent of the U.S. population) at the time of the study.This is an increase from the 2006 statistics (collected in 2005-2006) that reported 20.4 million Americans aged 12 or older as being illicit drug users (8.3 % of population), of which 14.8 million were users of marijuana.
  • 6.5 million non-medical users of prescription-type drugs (2.5 percent of U.S. population), including 4.5 million non-medical users of prescription pain relievers (1.7 percent of population), as compared to 5.2 million non-medical users of pain relievers in 2005-2006. There are 1.5 million current cocaine users aged 12 or older (0.6 percent of the population), as opposed to 2.4 million cocaine users 
in 2005-2006.
  • An estimated 1.3 million individuals aged 12 or older in 2013 (0.5 percent of the population) had used hallucinogens in the past month. An estimated 496,000 individuals aged 12 or older were current inhalant users at the time of the study, which represents 0.2 percent of the population. There were about 289,000 current heroin users aged 12 or older, or 0.1 percent of the population. In 2005-2006, there were about 1 million hallucinogen users, .8 million inhalant users and .3 million heroin users.
  • 2.2 million adolescents aged 12 to 17 who were current illicit drug users. This represents 8.8 percent of adolescents. In 2013, 7.1 percent of adolescents were current users of marijuana, 2.2 percent were current nonmedical users of prescription-type drugs (including 1.7 percent who were current nonmedical users of pain relievers), 0.6 percent were current users of hallucinogens, 0.5 percent were current users of inhalants, 0.2 percent were current users of cocaine, and 0.1 percent were current users of heroin. This compares to 2005-2006 reports of 6.7 percent using marijuana, 3.3 percent engaging in non-medical use of prescription-type drugs, 1.3 percent using inhalants.
  • 22.4 million adults aged 18 or older who were currently using illicit drugs, or 9.4 percent of adults. 7.6 percent of adults were users of marijuana, 2.5 percent were non-medical users of prescription-type drugs (including 1.7 percent who were non-medical users of pain relievers), 0.5 percent were users of hallucinogens, 0.6 percent were users of cocaine, 0.2 percent were users of inhalants, and 0.1 percent were users of heroin.

Illicit Drug Use on the Rise

As these figures show, illicit use of drugs by Americans, for the most part, has been increasing, not decreasing, over the past ten years.-Rita Milios As these figures show, illicit use of drugs by Americans, for the most part, has been increasing, not decreasing, over the past ten years.

Marijuana was the illicit drug with the largest number of persons with dependence or abuse in 2013, followed by pain relievers, then by cocaine. Of those aged 12 or older who were classified with illicit drug dependence or abuse in 2013, 61.4 percent had marijuana dependence or abuse. SAMSHA estimates that about one in every 17 high school seniors in 2014 (5.8 percent) was a daily or near-daily marijuana user (which, on a positive note, is down from 6.5 percent in 2013).

Of the estimated 2.8 million persons aged 12 or older who in 2013 used illicit drugs for the first time within the previous 12 months, a majority reported that their first drug was marijuana (70.3 percent). This is up from the 2012 numbers showing marijuana as a first drug of use for 65.6% of illicit drug users.

The Need for Treatment and Barriers to Treatment

Of the users surveyed in the 2014 SAMSHA study who met the criteria for needing substance use treatment, approximately 65.2% reported that they did not make an effort to receive treatment.

Those who did seek treatment reported the following common barriers:

  • No health coverage or coverage that did not cover treatment, so they could not afford the cost.
  • They were not ready to stop using.
  • They did not know where to go for treatment.
  • They did not have transportation.
  • Hours of the treatment programs were inconvenient for them.

Peer support services are one option that SAMSHA‘s Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT) is funding to help bridge the gap between treatment needs and opportunity.



Peer support services are services designed and delivered by people who have themselves experienced both substance use disorder and recovery. Such services act as a safety net to provide a vital link between help substance users receive within a clinical setting and the help they need once they have returned to a community setting.

Peer services include:

  • Emotional Support: Peer mentoring; Peer-led support groups
  • Informational Support: Parenting classes; Job readiness classes; Wellness seminars
  • Instrumental Support: Child care; Transportation; 
Help accessing community health and social services
  • Affiliation/Socialization Support: Recovery centers; Sports league participation; Alcohol- and drug-free socialization opportunities

Through their Recovery Community Services Program (RCSP), SAMHSA/CSAT funds grant projects across the country to develop and deliver peer support services. In offering peer-staffed support, the RCSP centers provide both continuity of care before and after treatment, as well as complementary services to supplement the aid provided by twelve-step programs.

Peer service providers strive to remove personal and external obstacles to recovery by making community linkages and serving as personal guides and mentors to those in recovery, and their families as well.

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