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Addiction by Race, Gender, and More: Who Does It Affect?

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The Surgeon General reports that 20.8 million people (nearly 8% of the total population) meet the criteria for a substance use disorder, but these people can’t be lumped into one group. Substance abuse doesn’t discriminate against age, race demographics, or socioeconomic status. All populations are at risk for addiction.

Substance abuse remains a rampant problem in modern society. Unfortunately, many people don’t get the help they need.

The first solution lies in education. It’s essential to understand the risk factors that can cause addiction. This knowledge can promote awareness. Awareness can help challenge the stigma associated with drug or alcohol abuse.

Drug Use By Gender

Both genders have unique issues when it comes to addiction.

Men typically have higher rates of alcohol, tobacco, or illicit substance dependence. They are more likely to use almost all types of illegal substances. Some research suggests this gap between men and women is closing, especially among adolescents. Men also have higher rates of overdose and visits to the emergency room.

But women are certainly not immune. Compared to men, women typically begin using drugs at a younger age. They also tend to self-medicate more frequently, and they develop addictions more quickly. Of the two groups, women are more likely to relapse than men.

When it comes to seeking professional treatment, men are more likely to receive care than women. There are many reasons for this difference, but a couple are that:

  • Women may have family or parenting obligations that they cannot leave behind.
  • They may be pregnant and worried about telling people they are using drugs.

In treatment, 21.7% of young women aged 12 to 17 indicate alcohol as their primary substance of abuse compared to 10.5% of young men. However, young men are more likely to indicate abusing marijuana. In older populations (65 and up), women are three times more likely to seek treatment for abusing prescription pain relievers than men.

Addiction and Age

About 4% of adolescents have a substance use disorder. The younger someone is when they begin using drugs, the more likely they are to develop addiction problems later in life.

This may happen for a few reasons:

  1. Drug use can have harmful, lasting impacts on developing brains
  2. Early risk factors, like trauma, mental illness, or family problems, may exacerbate the likelihood for developing addiction.

Many people think addiction is a young person’s problem, but research shows that 25% of all prescribed medications are given to older patients. It’s estimated that the number of adults over age 50 who need substance use treatment will increase 300% from 2000 to 2020.

Drug Use By Race

The 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health breaks down the rates of substance use disorders by race:

It is impossible to tell whether these numbers vary due to genes, culture, or both, but when it comes to substance use, it’s crucial to acknowledge the role of institutional racism and societal expectations.

As mentioned, most people don’t receive the treatment they need for addiction. Unfortunately, racial disparities exist in all forms of healthcare. Minority populations tend to be less likely to receive substance use treatment.

For example, one study found that minority patients receiving buprenorphine were more likely to leave treatment than white patients. Another found that Black and Hispanic youth were less likely to receive treatment than whites.

Addiction and Socioeconomic Status

Socioeconomic status (SES) is your social standing, and it’s usually a combination of income and occupation and education. It appears to play a role in addiction. For example, young adults in wealthier families are the most likely to use alcohol and marijuana. Experimentation starts early, and this can set young children up for abuse. Well-to-do children also have few financial barriers, so they usually don’t have to worry about affording drugs or alcohol.

In lower classes, drugs may be more readily accessible. For example, children may encounter drug deals while just walking to school.

Additionally, lower SES is associated with higher levels of stress. Chronic stress is a risk factor for almost all mental illnesses. That means poorer populations may be more susceptible to addiction.

Of course, socioeconomic status also plays a role in recovery. People with a lower SES may have a harder time accessing the care they need. They may not have health insurance. They might also not have the option to stop or cut back on working in order to attend treatment.

Addiction and Mental Illness

In a given year, over 18% of adults have suffered from a mental illness. These illnesses may include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Bipolar disorder

About half of people who have a mental illness also experience a substance use disorder and vice versa. Many people use drugs or alcohol to self-medicate mental health symptoms.

It’s unclear if substance abuse “causes” mental illness or vice versa. Instead, most experts agree that the two conditions share many risk factors.

Drug Use By Religion

Research shows that religion can protect against addiction. People with religious beliefs may be less likely to use drugs or drink in the first place. But research on this relationship is limited. For example, shame often prevents people from talking about their struggles with addiction. They may worry about being judged or pushed out of their religious community.

Many support groups and treatment programs incorporate spirituality. For example, 12-step groups encourage people to believe in a higher power. They also often talk about prayer and acceptance. These concepts can be extremely helpful for people recovering from addiction.

Some groups may be more susceptible to addiction, but the disease does not discriminate. If you are struggling, it’s important to reach out for help, no matter who you are or what your situation is. At Footprints to Recovery, we are here for you 24/7. Contact us today to learn how we can support you.

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David Szarka
Medically Reviewed by David Szarka, MA, LCADC
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