A Big Report on Americans’ Substance Use and Mental Health Is Out: How Are We Doing?

“Recovery is contagious,” said Michael Botticelli, director of National Drug Control Policy, speaking at a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) press conference held today for the 26th annual observance of National Recovery Month (NRM), which takes place every September. “We are living proof that treatment works and recovery happens,” said Botticelli, who is himself in recovery and was introduced at the press conference as the “Recovery Czar.”

Today’s event wasn’t just to celebrate NRM, though. SAMHSA released the results of its 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH),[PDF] a very influential and much-used report that gives a snapshot of the nation’s current substance use and abuse and mental health.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health: What the 2014 Data Shows

The 2014 report, which surveys approximately 67,500 Americans ages 12 and older, is the nation’s primary source of information available regarding the prevalence of mental health issues — which include substance abuse — affecting Americans today.

The findings in the latest NSDUH report are mixed. “Although progress has been made in some areas, especially among young people,” said Kana Enomoto, acting SAMHSA administrator in a press release, “there are many challenges we need to meet in addressing the behavioral health issues facing our nation.”

A Mostly Heartening Picture for Teenagers…

The 2014 results shows some headway in reaching adolescents about the dangers of substance use:

  • Smoking tobacco has declined among teens (defined as ages 12 to 17) by more than 50% – from 15.2% in 2002 to 7% in 2014.
  • Underage drinking has also decreased for this group: from 17.6% to 11.5%.
  • Fewer teens are misusing prescription pain relievers as well: 1.9% did so in 2014, down from 3.2% in 2002.

According to Botticelli’s remarks at the event, 90% of teens don’t use illegal drugs. However, more than one-third of young adults in 2014, according to the NSDUH, were binge drinkers (37.5%) and one in 10 drank heavily (10.8%).

…But Otherwise Not So Encouraging News

While there are signs of improvement for teens, that’s not the case in looking at substance abuse and mental health disorders nationally across all age brackets. Here are some highlights from the NSDUH report:

Illicit Drug Use

  • Overall, more Americans – 27 million – used an illicit drug (which includes marijuana) in the past 30 days. The number of Americans age 12 and over who report using an illicit drug(s) increased from 9.4% in 2013 to 10.2% in 2014.
  • Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug, with 8.4% of Americans saying they are current users, up from 7.5% in 2013. Non-medical use of pain relievers persists as the second-most common type of illicit drug, although there was a slight decline in users in 2014.
  • Marijuana use is growing especially quickly for those age 26 and older; rates of pot use in this group have gone from 5.6% in 2013 to 6.6% in 2014.
  • Though numbers are still small, comparatively, current heroin use increased by 100%, from 0.1% in 2013 to 0.2% in 2014.

Mental Health Issues

  • In the previous year, 6.6% of the adult population said they’d had a major depressive episode.
  • Of adolescents, 11.4% (nearly three million adolescents) experienced a major depressive episode in the previous 12 months. More young people said they’d been severely depressed than in any other year between 2004 and 2012.
  • About 3% of adults and 340,000 adolescents had both a mental illness and a substance use disorder like alcoholism or drug addiction, what’s called a co-occurring disorder, in the past year.

The new statistics shared today will be part of the ongoing efforts by SAMHSA and other behavioral health organizations to turn the tide on addiction and mental health issues. “With so many Americans affected and impacted by behavioral health conditions, our goals must be shared goals; our burdens, shared burdens; and our accomplishments collective,” said Enomoto in her closing remarks today at the National Press Club. “After all, the findings from the NSDUH report aren’t just numbers. They translate to real people and to real lives. The lives — the faces and voices behind the data — are people who can achieve recovery.”

To read more about SAMHSA’s National Recovery Month efforts, click here. And to see and participate in Addiction.com’s National Recovery Month project, click here.

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