Providing straightforward information pertaining to drugs, drug use & drug policy. The Grey Pages promotes drug-related literacy and advocates a system of viable and tolerant drug policies. This is my personal collection of commentaries, essays, tid-bits, and other such writings on everything ranging from drug use, drug policy and drug-myths, to drug-science, addiction, human behavior, and the workings of the human brain. I started this blog with a particular focus on opioids, and over the past year have found my interest gravitate toward the intriguing, ever-changing world of designer intoxicants (i.e. "research chemicals" or "designer drugs").

Monday, June 4, 2012

Drug Addiction: Some Facts, Some Data

It's amusing how most data on addiction and substance use just flies in the face of popular knowledge. It contradicts most of the deceptive rhetoric we regularly hear from anti-drug fanatics as well as those in prevention & treatment. Though I've never been one to throw out 'statistics' (I'd rather make my case from an ideological or intellectual standpoint), the more published findings I can access and absorb, the better prepared I am to debate nit-wits about drugs and drug policy, as I can provide them the one brand of information they are familiar with. Statistics, concrete numerical figures, literal observations, etc; these are about the only debating points that most anti-drug fanatics can understand, as they generally lack the capacity for abstract reasoning.

Fact: Addiction is not a likely outcome of drug usage, even with "hard" drugs like crack and heroin.

A 2008 study reported the percentage of subjects who had began using drugs over the past 2 years and come to meet the criteria for addiction in the the past year; the percentages ranged from a high of only 13.4% for heroin, to a low of only 0.9% for inhalants. In other words, an 86.6 percent of those who had tried heroin (the most addictive drug according to this study) never went on to become addicted to the drug at any point during the following year. Of this 86.6 percent who had first used or began using the drug but did not become addicted, 75.6% had been abstinent from the drug for the last year or more, while 11% had reported using the drug at some point in the last year. The full results of this study, which covers several popular drugs, can be seen in the graph below.

Fact: Drug addiction is not the "epidemic" that it's portrayed to be. Only a minority of those who take illicit drugs, occasionally or regularly, are problematic users.

Less than 1% of the world's population between the ages of 15 and 64 are substance dependent, while only about 12% of those who use drugs at least once annually are considered to be drug-addicts. About 5% of the world's population (15-64 years old) uses illicit drugs at least once per year, while only about half, or 2.7%, of these so-called "criminals" are regular users (using at least once a month). Furthermore, about 25 million people worldwide meet the popular criteria for drug addiction or "substance abuse", which is equal to 0.6% of the world population ages 15 to 64. So extrapolating from these figures, we can conclude the following; A) out of everyone in the world who use illicit drugs at least once annually, only about 12% meet the criteria for what is popularly understood to be drug addiction. And b) out of everyone in the world aged 15-64 who uses drugs regularly (>1x per month), less than a quarter (22%) are drug addicted.  These estimates have not changes much in recent years - increases in certain countries were compensated by decreases in others.



Fact: Medical "treatment" for addiction is not needed. Most addicts stop on their own.

About 75% of people with substance abuse problems eventually recover without ever seeking treatment. As for the 25% of recovered substance users who have received some form of treatment, there is no evidence showing they would not have recovered had they not seeked treatment. These findings were derived from a major study carried out by the NIAAA (the largest scale study of its kind). Though the study was done on alcohol addicts, these findings are applicable across the board (as to state the obvious, the particular drug of choice in a given case of addiction is irrelevant to its behavioral manifestations). 

A study nearly identical to aforementioned the NIAAA study confirmed the previous findings, demonstrating a "recovery" rate of 75 to 77.5% in those who never seeked treatment.

A well-known study of heroin-addicted Vietnam veterans found that 90% stopped their heroin addiction on their own, without treatment.

Fact: 12 Step meetings are harmful, not helpful.

According to one study, alcoholics who attended AA were 5x more likely to binge drink than those who did not seek treatment for drinking. Furthermore, they were also 9x more likely to binge drink than those who instead participated in cognitive behavioral therapy.

Source: Outpatient Treatment of Alcoholism, A Review and Comparative Study.  Jeffrey M Brandsma Ph.D., University Park Press, Baltimore, 1980

Fact: Drug addiction is not a disease, but a temporary lifestyle phase that most people grow out of.

Drug addiction is generally a youthful lifestyle phase. It typically begins to manifest in the late teenage years. Most addicted persons grow out of this phase by age 30. From this point, former "addicts" either go on to use drugs/alcohol moderately (without future problems) or remain abstinent. See graph. Odds are that a drug addicted person is three times more likely to end their addiction than they are to continue their addiction.


  1. As a recovering addict/alcoholic, I find the asertions and inference on this page dangerous & irresponsible. The inference here is that because "one study" indicated 12 step meetings were not beneficial in helping to maintain recovery, that this is an established scientific fact. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I am a 50 year old addict/alcoholic in recovery (with a history of relapse in the past when I stopped going to meetings and practicing active recovery principles) and I find this page and its premise not only flawed, but VERY scary. Addicts and alcoholics will grab onto ANY justification or rationale to continue their behavior and this webpage provides ample fodder for assisting the addicted person to remain in denial and continue with substance abuse.

    1. Yes of course anything that doesn't fit in with the 12-step model is "dangerous" and any rationale for why people want get high is "denial". Typical AA/NA response.

    2. Point perfectly stated.

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