National Household Survey on Drug Abuse
ANY ILLICIT DRUG USE
In 1998, an estimated 13.6 million Americans
were current illicit drug users, meaning they had used an illicit drug
in the month prior to interview. This represents 6.2 percent of the population
12 years old and older.
Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit
drug, used by 81 percent of current illicit drug users. Approximately 60
percent of current illicit drug users used only marijuana, 21 percent used
marijuana and another illicit drug, and the remaining 19 percent used an
illicit drug but not marijuana in the past month. Therefore, about 40 percent
of current illicit drug users in 1998 (an estimated 5.4 million Americans)
were current users of illicit drugs other than marijuana and hashish (with
or without the use of marijuana) (Figure 1).
The number of current illicit drug users did
not change significantly between 1997 and 1998 (13.9 and 13.6 million,
respectively). The number of current illicit drug users was at its highest
level in 1979 (25.4 million, 14.1 percent), declined until 1992 (12.0 million,
5.8 percent), and appears to have increased slightly, but this increase
is not statistically significant (Figure 2).
Rates of use of marijuana, psychotherapeutics,
cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens, and inhalants in the total population age
12 and older did not change between 1997 and 1998 (Figure 3). The rate
of hallucinogen use increased and the rate of tranquilizer use decreased
between 1992 and 1998.
° Rates of drug use show substantial variation
by age. Among youth age 12-13, 2.9 percent were current illicit drug users.
The highest rates were found among young people ages 16-17 (16.4 percent),
age 18-20 (19.9 percent), and age 21-25 (13.5 percent). 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 (Figure 4).
° Nearly half of young adults age 21-29
had tried illicit drugs at least once in their lifetime, and 10.6 percent
were current users. More than half of adults age 30-44 had tried illicit
drugs, but rate of current use was only 6.8 percent for those age 30-44.
° In 1998, about a third (32.3 percent)
of illicit drug users were age 35 and older. This has not changed much
since 1991, when 29.4 percent of illicit drug users were age 35 and older.
In 1979, the peak year for drug use prevalence, only 10.3 percent of drug
users were age 35 and older.
°The percentage of adolescents (12-17
years old) using drugs decreased between 1997 and 1998 from 11.4 percent
to 9.9 percent. In 1992, the rate of past month use among youth age 12-17
reached a low of 5.3 percent, the result of a decline from 16.3 percent
in 1979. By 1995 the rate had climbed back up to 10.9 percent. Since then
the rate has fluctuated from 9 to 11 percent (Figure 5). These trends are
generally consistent with data from the Monitoring the Future surveys of
students, which indicate increasing use from 1992 to1996, a leveling in
1997, and a slight decrease in 1998.
° Between 1997 and 1998, the percentage
of adults reporting past month illicit drug use remained about the same.
In 1998 the rates were 16.1 percent for persons age 18-25, 7.0 percent
for those age 26-34, and 3.3 percent for those age 35 and older (Figure
° The rate of past month illicit drug
use among youths was higher among those that were currently using cigarettes
or alcohol, compared with youths not using cigarettes or alcohol. In 1998,
3.4 percent of youth nonsmokers used illicit drugs, while among youths
who used cigarettes, the rate of past month illicit drug use was 39.1 percent.
The rate of illicit drug use was also associated with the level of alcohol
use. Among youths who were heavy drinkers in 1998, 68.5 percent were also
current illicit drug users. Among nondrinkers, only 2.9 percent were current
illicit drug users.
° The rate of current illicit drug use
for blacks (8.2 percent) remained somewhat higher than for whites (6.1
percent) and Hispanics (6.1 percent) in 1998. Among youth, the rates of
use are about the same for these three racial/ethnic groups.
° With respect to absolute numbers,
most current illicit drug users are white. There were an estimated 9.9
million whites (72 percent of all users), 2.0 million blacks (15 percent),
and 1.4 million Hispanics (10 percent) who were current illicit drug users
° There were no changes in rates between
1997 and 1998 for any of the racial/ethnic groups for age 12 and older.
° As in prior years, men continued to
have a higher rate of current illicit drug use than women (8.1 percent
vs. 4.5 percent) in 1998.
° The current illicit drug use rate in
1998 was 7.3 percent in the West region, 6.7 percent in the North Central
region, 5.8 percent in the Northeast, and 5.5 percent in the South.
° The rates of illicit drug use in
metropolitan areas are higher than rates in nonmetropolitan areas. Rates
were 6.4 percent in large metropolitan areas, 7.0 percent in small metropolitan
areas, and 4.6 percent in nonmetropolitan areas.
° Rural nonmetropolitan areas have
lower rates of illicit drug use than other areas. Average annual rates
for 1997 and 1998 were 4.5 percent in rural areas and 6.6 percent in non-rural
areas. Among youth, a similar pattern held, with 8.0 percent of rural youth
and 11.2 percent of non-rural youth using illicit drugs in the past month
° Illicit drug use rates remain highly
correlated with educational status. Among young adults age 26-34 years
old in 1998, those who had not completed high school had the highest rate
of current use (9.8 percent), while college graduates had the lowest rate
of use (4.8 percent). This is despite the fact that young adults at different
educational levels are equally as likely to have tried illicit drugs in
their lifetime (49.4 percent of those not completing high school and 47.0
percent of college graduates age 26-34 years).
° Current employment status is also highly
correlated with rates of illicit drug use. An estimated 18.2 percent of
unemployed adults (age 18 and older) were current illicit drug users in
1998, compared with 6.4 percent of full-time employed adults (Figure 7).
° Although the rate of drug use is
higher among the unemployed, most drug users are employed. Of the 11.4
million adult illicit drug users, 8.3 million (73 percent) were employed
either full time or part time.
This page was last updated on June 01, 2008.