Drug Abuse is More Common in Wealthier Nations

Wealthy person holding iPhone and Cocaine

Contrary to popular belief, it is the wealthier countries that actually have more devastating drug problems and addiction issues in general than the poorer countries do. This seems counterintuitive to us, as we have always considered addiction to be something that happens to the poor, the impoverished, the struggling, the misfortune-ridden, etc. But this is actually not the case. In fact, drug abuse and alcoholism is now more a problem for the middle-class and even the wealthy than it likely ever has been.

A recent, global study found that middle-income and wealthy nations typically struggle with substance abuse problems more than poor, second world, or third world countries do. The study found that, globally, about two-hundred million people abuse drugs on a regular basis. Almost twenty-five million of those users are in the United States. The remainder is divided amongst other, wealthy, or relatively well-off nations.

According to Dr. Jeffrey T. Parsons, a professor at Hunter College who assisted in the research program:

“The study serves to confirm something addiction experts have known for some time – that the extent of illicit drug use and abuse in developed countries like the United States has reached epidemic proportions.”

“The study serves to confirm something addiction experts have known for some time – that the extent of illicit drug use and abuse in developed countries like the United States has reached epidemic proportions.”

The United States only comprises five percent of the entire planet’s population yet accounts for more than twelve percent of the world’s substance abuse problems. Statistically, that means that the United States’s substance abuse problem is more than double what the global average is on a per capita basis.

Global Human Health is Damaged by Drug Abuse

According to the World Health Organization, drug abuse causes over a quarter of a million deaths each year, with about twenty to twenty-five percent of those deaths coming from the United States, the country with only five percent of the world’s population. Coincidentally, it is also the other, smaller, wealthier countries that have better healthcare than the global average, that also posts the highest per capita overdose death rates.

What we are seeing here is that lower population, wealthier nations are the ones who experience the harshest of substance abuse difficulties, the largest percentages of addicted residents, and, even though these nations also have the best healthcare, the highest number of deaths from drug overdoses.

The World Health Organization estimates that every year, over two million years of life are lost globally from drug use alone. This number has now exceeded the years of life lost from alcohol misuse. What is even more concerning is that, in spite of increased nationwide awareness of the problem, wealthier nations have not made much progress in reducing the global epidemic. In fact, if anything it has gotten worse.

According to Dr. Parsons:

“Unfortunately, the U.S. has made little progress in the prevention and treatment of drug abuse in the past decade. More research is needed on effective education and prevention programs designed to reach young people before they begin to use/abuse illicit drugs.”

Making Positive Changes for Cleaner Living

Sun shinning through american flag

Wealthy nations and even middle-income nations possess the tools to reduce their drug problems and to even help others do the same. Reducing a drug problem is a matter of prevention, (stopping people from abusing drugs before they experiment with them). Reducing a drug problem is also a matter of rehabilitation (helping free those who are currently hooked on drugs through residential addiction treatment). These strategies can be applied within households, communities, towns, states, all the way up to the federal level. And they should be applied on all of those levels. Only in this way can we really remove the drug problem for good.




After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.