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1998 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse

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° Nearly half of young adults age 21-29 had tried illicit drugs at least once in their lifetime, and 10.6 percent were current users. More than half of adults age 30-44 had tried illicit drugs, but rate of current use was only 6.8 percent for those age 30-44.

° In 1998, about a third (32.3 percent) of illicit drug users were age 35 and older. This has not changed much since 1991, when 29.4 percent of illicit drug users were age 35 and older. In 1979, the peak year for drug use prevalence, only 10.3 percent of drug users were age 35 and older.

°The percentage of adolescents (12-17 years old) using drugs decreased between 1997 and 1998 from 11.4 percent to 9.9 percent. In 1992, the rate of past month use among youth age 12-17 reached a low of 5.3 percent, the result of a decline from 16.3 percent in 1979. By 1995 the rate had climbed back up to 10.9 percent. Since then the rate has fluctuated from 9 to 11 percent (Figure 5). These trends are generally consistent with data from the Monitoring the Future surveys of students, which indicate increasing use from 1992 to1996, a leveling in 1997, and a slight decrease in 1998.

° Between 1997 and 1998, the percentage of adults reporting past month illicit drug use remained about the same. In 1998 the rates were 16.1 percent for persons age 18-25, 7.0 percent for those age 26-34, and 3.3 percent for those age 35 and older (Figure 5).

° The rate of past month illicit drug use among youths was higher among those that were currently using cigarettes or alcohol, compared with youths not using cigarettes or alcohol. In 1998, 3.4 percent of youth nonsmokers used illicit drugs, while among youths who used cigarettes, the rate of past month illicit drug use was 39.1 percent. The rate of illicit drug use was also associated with the level of alcohol use. Among youths who were heavy drinkers in 1998, 68.5 percent were also current illicit drug users. Among nondrinkers, only 2.9 percent were current illicit drug users.


° The rate of current illicit drug use for blacks (8.2 percent) remained somewhat higher than for whites (6.1 percent) and Hispanics (6.1 percent) in 1998. Among youth, the rates of use are about the same for these three racial/ethnic groups.

° With respect to absolute numbers, most current illicit drug users are white. There were an estimated 9.9 million whites (72 percent of all users), 2.0 million blacks (15 percent), and 1.4 million Hispanics (10 percent) who were current illicit drug users in 1998.

° There were no changes in rates between 1997 and 1998 for any of the racial/ethnic groups for age 12 and older.


° As in prior years, men continued to have a higher rate of current illicit drug use than women (8.1 percent vs. 4.5 percent) in 1998.


° The current illicit drug use rate in 1998 was 7.3 percent in the West region, 6.7 percent in the North Central region, 5.8 percent in the Northeast, and 5.5 percent in the South.

° The rates of illicit drug use in metropolitan areas are higher than rates in nonmetropolitan areas. Rates were 6.4 percent in large metropolitan areas, 7.0 percent in small metropolitan areas, and 4.6 percent in nonmetropolitan areas.

° Rural nonmetropolitan areas have lower rates of illicit drug use than other areas. Average annual rates for 1997 and 1998 were 4.5 percent in rural areas and 6.6 percent in non-rural areas. Among youth, a similar pattern held, with 8.0 percent of rural youth and 11.2 percent of non-rural youth using illicit drugs in the past month (Figure 6).


° Illicit drug use rates remain highly correlated with educational status. Among young adults age 26-34 years old in 1998, those who had not completed high school had the highest rate of current use (9.8 percent), while college graduates had the lowest rate of use (4.8 percent). This is despite the fact that young adults at different educational levels are equally as likely to have tried illicit drugs in their lifetime (49.4 percent of those not completing high school and 47.0 percent of college graduates age 26-34 years).


° Current employment status is also highly correlated with rates of illicit drug use. An estimated 18.2 percent of unemployed adults (age 18 and older) were current illicit drug users in 1998, compared with 6.4 percent of full-time employed adults (Figure 7).

° Although the rate of drug use is higher among the unemployed, most drug users are employed. Of the 11.4 million adult illicit drug users, 8.3 million (73 percent) were employed either full time or part time.

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This page was last updated on June 01, 2008.