The Effects Of Addiction On Society

Drug and alcohol addiction, also known as a substance use disorder (SUD), is a pervasive disease that can affect people from all walks of life; regardless of cultural background, ethnicity, gender, age, or socioeconomic status. Sadly, it is safe to assume that nearly everyone has been affected by addiction, whether it be through their own personal struggles or that of a loved one or close friend. Even worse, many people who have been affected by addiction know someone who has lost their fight, whether it be due to violence, chronic illness, or a fatal overdose.

The effects of drugs and alcohol are extremely concerning, not just for the person using them, but for those close to them as well. In 2020, 11,654 people died from an alcohol-related drunk driving incident. To put that into perspective, that’s nearly one person every 45 minutes. Along with drunk driving deaths, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, both due to alcohol, were responsible for nearly 56,000 deaths in 2021.

Addiction poses a threat not only in the form of fatalities but in the burden it puts on society; both in costs and risks to others. Experts say that the total cost of drug abuse in the United States is more than $740 billion a year, with that number expected to grow in the coming years. This cost comes from several different places. Loss of productivity in the workplace, added stress to the healthcare system, to the cost of drug-related crime, addiction is an incredibly costly disease.

To effectively address the tremendous impact of addiction throughout our communities, national officials and policymakers are working toward an approach that focuses on prevention, awareness, and recovery. A major step in the right direction has been to start addressing addiction for what it is: an addiction, and not a “lifestyle choice” or “behavioral issue,” and one that requires treatment rather than incarceration. This can help dismantle the harmful stigma that all too often accompanies addiction, and help people feel more confident and comfortable in their decision to seek the help they need.

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Who Addiction Affects

No one is immune from addiction. Addiction sees no boundaries and doesn’t discriminate based on a person’s age, financial situation, education level, race, or any other factors. Because of this, rehab centers across the country have programs that specialize in treating nearly every demographic, including those most at risk for addiction.

The LGBTQ+ Community

The LGBTQ+ community faces many societal challenges that make them more prone to addiction than the general population. Along with the stigma of addiction, members of the LGBTQ+ community face discrimination from society in the form of hate crimes, physical and emotional abuse, rejection or shame from family or friends, or discriminatory laws passed by the government. Because of this, LGBTQ+ individuals will often turn to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate.

According to data from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), rates of drug and alcohol abuse are higher in LGBTQ+ individuals than among those who identify as heterosexual. Compared to 16% of heterosexual adults (18 and older), more than 37% of LGBTQ+ individuals reported using Marijuana use in the last year. Fortunately, the number of LGBTQ+-specific treatment centers across the nation is rising, which help address the unique needs of the LGBTQ+ community.


Addiction among the elderly population, particularly to alcohol and prescription drugs, is one of the fastest-growing health problems in the United States. Sadly, substance abuse in this age group is not only underestimated but it’s often overlooked.

There are many reasons why seniors turn to substance abuse later in life. These can include things like loss of income, death of a spouse or loved one, relocation or placement in a nursing home, family conflict, or decline in physical or mental health.

While addiction is often observed earlier in life, it’s estimated that over 1 million adults aged 65 and older struggle with a SUD. Individuals over the age of 65 who need substance abuse treatment can find programs across the nation that offer specialized services, including counseling, case management, and family therapy.

Medical Professionals

Medical professionals, such as doctors and nurses, have some of the highest rates of drug and alcohol abuse among the professional workforce. Estimates put the number of medical professionals struggling with substance abuse upwards of 100,000. Medical professionals face unique challenges and stressors that can push them toward substances. Because of this alarming trend, many programs are tailored to help medical professionals recover while ensuring they can retain their license and continue practicing after treatment.


Like medical professionals, although different in their respect, veterans face many unique challenges that the general public does not. Unfortunately, this means that many veterans suffer from both mental health and SUDs. According to data collected by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), nearly 500,000 veterans who served in the last 13 years have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Of those 500,000, it’s estimated that over 20% also have a SUD. Rehab programs for service members often address these co-occurring disorders using a dual diagnosis approach, providing individuals the best chances of successfully returning to peaceful civilian life.

Pregnant People

Substance use, no matter the amount, is extremely dangerous for pregnant individuals. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is no safe amount of alcohol use during pregnancy or while trying to get pregnant. Doing so can put the fetus at risk for fetal alcohol syndrome, as well as other harmful birth defects. While many pregnant people completely avoid alcohol during their pregnancy, unfortunately, some parents-to-be who are struggling with an alcohol addiction cannot stop drinking and may even be unaware of the side effects.

The Homeless

In 2020, there were nearly 590,000 people experiencing homelessness in the US. This number has grown significantly in recent years and has particularly grown among the younger age ranges. Unfortunately, homelessness and substance abuse are often co-occurring.

According to The National Coalition for the Homeless, 38% of the homeless population struggle with alcohol addiction, and 26% report being addicted to other illicit substances. Furthermore, reports suggest that nearly one-third of all homeless people suffer from a type of mental illness.

It’s important to note that not everyone who uses drugs or alcohol will become homeless, but those who are homeless have a much higher likelihood of developing an addiction. Fortunately, there are many government programs and rehab facilities that specialize in helping our homeless communities.

Emergency Responders

Emergency responders, specifically firefighters, emergency medical services (EMS), and police officers, are the ones we call on in some of our most tragic moments. They are first on the scene of some of the most dangerous scenarios and, as a result, often witness or experience traumatic events that the general public will not.

It is estimated that 30% of first responders develop behavioral health conditions during their time of service, including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Furthermore, addiction rates among first responders are significantly higher than the general public, with 25% of police officers, 29% of firefighters, and nearly 40% of EMTs reporting struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol.

Cancer Patients

A cancer diagnosis can turn even the most stable, rooted person’s world completely upside down. Along with a world of unknowns, the pain that all too often accompanies cancer, and cancer treatment, can turn many toward drugs and alcohol to help cope.

While addiction in oncology patients is not well-documented, a 2019 systematic review found that nearly 35% of cancer patients struggle with substance abuse. Drugs and alcohol can not only have harmful effects, but they can also increase the risk of cancer and exacerbate existing cancer ailments. Treating both cancer and addiction can be challenging, but a multidisciplinary rehabilitation team can help you be successful.

The Workforce

While many people, unfortunately, hold the belief that those who are struggling with addiction are unable or unwilling to work, the reality is that most people with a SUD continue to hold down a job. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), over 70% of people who report abusing substances are currently employed, with the most used substances being Marijuana, alcohol, and Cocaine.

Addiction in the workplace is so prevalent, in fact, that it is estimated to cost companies over $81 billion a year in productivity loss. Young professionals, specifically those 25 to 40 years old, have seen the sharpest increase in addiction rates among working people, rising almost 110% from 2006-2015. Fortunately, there are many treatment programs, like outpatient rehabs, that can offer addiction treatment while also allowing you to continue working.

African Americans And Afro-Caribbean Americans

African Americans and Afro-Caribbean Americans have both been hit hard by drug and alcohol addiction in recent years. According to data collected by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), non-Hispanic Black Americans and Afro-Caribbean Americans have the second-highest rate of illicit drug use (20.8%) among any other racial or ethnic group in the country.

Along with the challenges and health effects addiction can have, these communities also face harmful stigma and marginalization in the form of hate crimes, physical and emotional abuse, and harmful, targeted legislation. There are many treatment facilities available for African American and Afro-Caribbean people, many of which understand the specific struggles and challenges these communities face.

Asian-Americans And Pacific Islanders

Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) are another marginalized community that unfortunately face discrimination, stigma, and unique challenges. These stresses can not only cause harm in and of themselves, such as violence or hate crimes, but they can also lead many to abuse substances like drugs or alcohol.

Rates of addiction in AAPI communities are slightly lower than in other groups, however, only a fraction (14%) of AAPI individuals seek out and receive addiction treatment. Treatment options are available for members of the AAPI communities, many of which will oftentimes be focused on helping addiction victims work through the underlying stressors that may turn them toward substance abuse.

Rural Communities

Oftentimes, addiction is thought of as a “big city” issue, or an epidemic in major metropolitan areas. In reality, the rates of fatal drug overdoses in rural areas have surpassed those of urban areas in recent years. Rural communities have been hit so hard, in fact, that West Virginia, the 39th least-populous state, leads the nation in fatal drug overdose rates at nearly 82 per 100,000, almost double that of Kentucky which has the second highest (49.2).

Typically, people in rural communities are older and in poorer health than those in urban centers, which can exacerbate the negative effects of substance abuse. Sadly, the cost and lack of access to rehab for members of rural communities can keep many from seeking treatment. However, the cost of addiction can often exceed that of treatment, and many times can end up costing a life. Fortunately, many rehabilitation centers and government programs are expanding into rural areas.

College Students

While drug and alcohol use among college students has come to be an “expected,” sometimes even glorified, part of the college experience, the fact of the matter is that there is an alarming number of college students who are becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol.

College students, namely those between the ages of 18 and 24, make up the largest group of drug abusers in the nation. A recent study found that nearly 40% of college students report regularly using an illegal substance or alcohol. Addiction to drugs and alcohol while in college can be difficult to treat, as many students don’t believe their substance use is a problem. However, there are rehab facilities that specialize in treating young adults and college students in both inpatient and outpatient settings.

Young Adults

Young adults, like college students, are typically categorized as starting at 18 and extending into their mid to late 20s. This age group faces unique challenges and stressors, many of which they experience for the first time in their lives. This period of life is typically when people undergo some of the most dramatic life events, like moving away from family, starting a career, or enrolling in the college or military.

As a result, these stresses can turn many toward substance abuse. Across all other demographics (race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, or education level), young adults make up the largest portion of drug and alcohol abusers, with nearly 25% reporting illicit drug use in the last year. Due to such a high prevalence of young adult drug users, treatment centers focused on helping this age group have become increasingly popular.

Gen Z

Unfortunately, addiction can affect anyone, even the youngest members of our society. Much like young adults, members of Generation Z (Gen Z), are seeing a sharp increase in the prevalence of drug and alcohol abuse.

According to the National Center for Drug Abuse, 2.08 million or 8.33% of 12 to 17-year-olds nationwide report using drugs in the last month. With many in this age group reporting drug use, there is also an unfortunately large number that has lost their lives as a result. In 2019, 4,777 15- to 24-year-olds died of a fatal drug overdose. While it can be difficult to address substance abuse at such a young age, doing so is important, as the earlier someone enters treatment the higher their likelihood of recovery is.

Low-Income Individuals

While there is no established cause-and-effect relationship between poverty and addiction, numerous studies have found that substance abuse is more common among people of lower economic status.

In 2020, the US Census Bureau reported that 37.2 million people, or nearly 12% of the population, were living in poverty. Poverty in the US is measured by comparing a person or family’s income to the minimum amount of income needed to cover basic, essential needs.

The stress of financial troubles among low-income individuals often results in a reliance on substance abuse to help cope. The cost of treatment can often bar low-income individuals from getting help. However, many rehabilitation facilities offer payment options that may help decrease the financial burden. Additionally, many government-sponsored programs can be offered at little or no out-of-pocket cost.

Single Parents

As social norms and other factors continue to progress with society, single-parent households are becoming more and more accepted. This, accompanied by things like the untimely passing of a spouse or removal from the family, means that the number of single-parent households has more than doubled in the last half-century.

According to data collected by the Census Bureau, there are 13.6 million single-parent families, of which 80% are “headed by single mothers.” Along with the stresses of bearing the responsibilities of both parents, single parents can become anxious or depressed, and in response may develop an unhealthy relationship with substances.

Many single parents who struggle with an addiction to drugs or alcohol may feel as though they lack the time or resources necessary to get help. Thankfully, many programs, such as outpatient rehabs, offer programs that allow single parents to return home each night to be with their families. Additionally, some treatment centers also allow for children to stay with their parent in rehab. These programs not only treat the parent’s addiction but also treat the child for any related mental health issues.

Refugees And Immigrants

Many refugees and immigrants have suffered intense, unimaginable trauma, either from their place of emigration or their journey to the States. The majority of refugees and immigrants that come to the US do so from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burma, Ukraine, Eritrea, Afghanistan, El Salvador, Pakistan, and Ethiopia.

In 2021, more than 22,000 refugees were relocated to the US. Additionally, more than 245,000 people from outside the country migrated to the US. While rates of addiction among refugees and immigrants have been historically lower than other groups, it is still prevalent, with as many as 10% reporting they are struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol.

The Disabled Community

According to the CDC, nearly 61 million, or 1 in 4, adults in the US are currently living with a disability. Sadly, disabilities and substance abuse are commonly co-occurring. Along with experiencing higher rates of addiction, people with disabilities are also less likely to receive treatment for them than those without a disability. Many factors cause the disabled community to experience high rates of addiction, such as chronic pain, lack of access to adequate health care, co-occurring mental health conditions like anxiety and depression, social stigma, ableism, and discrimination.

While it can be difficult to find competent care for a SUD while also living with a disability, treatment centers are out there, and they can sometimes even specialize in co-occurring conditions like physical or cognitive disabilities.

Health And Safety Risks Of Addiction

Addiction can oftentimes have an intricate relationship within our communities, especially when it comes to some of the more pressing issues they face. Typically, health and societal issues, like liver disease or financial instability, arise as the result of substance abuse. In other instances, drugs and alcohol can be used to help self-medicate and cope with these issues. Sadly, the relationship substances have with these communities doesn’t stop there. The reality is that drugs and alcohol can have a devastating impact on not only the person using them but those in their community as well.

Research shows that nearly 80 percent of all domestic violence crimes have a connection to addictive substances. An intimate partner’s abusive behavior can be aggravated by drug or alcohol consumption. In turn, a victim may use substances to soothe trauma and fears of future abuse.

Learn more about domestic violence and its correlation with substance abuse.

Illicit drug use can also pose a serious threat to communities, as intravenous drug use can lead to the transmission of human immunodeficiency virus or HIV. Additionally, those under the influence of drugs or alcohol are more likely to engage in risky behaviors – such as unprotected sex. These risky sexual behaviors can lead to the contraction of HIV. HIV is a serious disease, that can damage a person’s immune system and lead to acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).

Finding treatment for drug or alcohol addiction can be difficult, especially for those in marginalized or underprivileged communities. While getting help may seem impossible, there is a treatment center out there for everyone.

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Finding Resources In Your Community

Every community presents unique issues and challenges with substance abuse, and with varying availability of resources, finding affordable treatment can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Fortunately, there are treatment centers available that take into account all manner of accommodation needs, including financial aid (i.e., covered by insurance, the Affordable Care Act, private funding, or grants), disability care, gender-specific treatment, and much more.

Rehab locators are available online to connect individuals with treatment centers in their vicinity. The price and location of treatment should not bar an individual from receiving the care they or a loved one needs for recovery, and neither should the community you are a part of. For more information on treatment options, contact a treatment provider.