1997 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse:  Preliminary Results

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oIn 1997, an estimated 13.9 million Americans were current illicit drug users, meaning they had used an illicit drug in the month prior to interview. This represents 6.4 percent of the population 12 years old and older.

oMarijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug, used by 80 percent of current illicit drug users. Approximately 60 percent of current illicit drug users used marijuana only, 20 percent used marijuana and another illicit drug, and the remaining 20 percent used only an illicit drug other than marijuana in the past month. Therefore, about 40 percent of current illicit drug users in 1997 (an estimated 5.5 million Americans) were current users of illicit drugs other than marijuana and hashish (Figure 1).

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The number of current illicit drug users did not change significantly between 1996 and 1997 (13.0 and 13.9 million, respectively). The number of current illicit drug users was at its highest level in 1979 (25.4 million, 14.1 percent), declined until 1992 (12.0 million, 5.8 percent), and has increased slowly (not reaching statistical significance) but steadily since then as a result of increases in youth drug use (Figure 2).

oRates of use of marijuana, psychotherapeutics, cocaine, hallucinogens, and inhalants in the total population age 12 and older did not change between 1996 and 1997, although hallucinogen (and heroin) use rates have increased since 1992 (Figure 3).

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o160oRates of drug use show substantial variation by age. Among youth age 12-13, 3.8 percent were current illicit drug users. The highest rates were found among young people ages 16-17 (19.2 percent) and age 18-20 (17.3 percent). The rates of use in each successive age group generally decline, with only 1.0 percent of persons age 50 and older reporting current illicit use (Figure 4).o160

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oNearly half of young adults age 21-25 had tried illicit drugs at least once in their lifetime, and 13 percent were current users. More than half of adults age 26-49 had tried illicit drugs, but rates of current use were only 7.4 percent for those age 26-34 and 6.4 percent for those age 35-49.

oThe percentage of current illicit drug users that were age 35 and older increased from 10.3 percent in 1979 to 29.4 percent in 1991. Between 1991 and 1997, the percent remained fairly constant (33.5 percent in 1997).

oThe percentage of adolescents (12-17 years old) using drugs increased between 1996 and 1997, after a decrease between 1995 and 1996. 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, decreased to 9.0 percent in 1996, and then was estimated to be 11.4 percent in 1997 (Figure 5).

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oThe increase in use among youth between 1996 and 1997 occurred among those age 12-13 (2.2 and 3.8 percent respectively). Although the changes between 1996 and 1997 for those age 14-15 and age 16-17 were not statistically significant, the percent increases in prevalence were similar across all three age groups. Furthermore, the combined 14-17 age group did show a significant increase in prevalence from 1996 to 1997. For young adults age 18-25, there were no significant changes in the rates between 1996 and 1997. (Figure 6).

oBetween 1996 and 1997, the percentage of adults reporting past month illicit drug use remained about the same. In 1997 the rates were 14.7 percent for persons age 18-25, 7.4 percent for those age 26-34, and 3.6 percent for those age 35 and older (Figure 5).

oThe rate of past month illicit drug use among youths was higher among those that were currently using cigarettes and alcohol, compared with youths not using cigarettes and alcohol. Furthermore, the increase in illicit drug use between 1996 and 1997 occurred only among youths who were using cigarettes and alcohol. In 1996, 3.8 percent of youth nonsmokers used illicit drugs, and in 1997 3.6 percent of nonsmokers used illicit drugs. Among youths who used cigarettes, the rates of past month illicit drug use were 32.5 percent in 1996 and 42.8 percent in 1997. Similarly, the increase in illicit drug use occurred only among alcohol users.


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oThe rate of current illicit drug use for blacks (7.5 percent) remained somewhat higher than for whites (6.4 percent) and Hispanics (5.9 percent) in 1997. Among youth, the rates of use are about the same for these three racial/ethnic groups.

oMost current illicit drug users were white. There were an estimated 10.3 million whites (74 percent of all users), 1.8 million blacks (13 percent), and 1.3 million Hispanics (9 percent) who were current illicit drug users in 1997.

oThere were no changes in rates between 1996 and 1997 for any of the racial/ethnic groups for age 12 and older. However, for youth age 12-17, the rate for whites increased significantly from 9.2 percent in 1996 to 11.8 percent in 1997.


oAs in prior years, men continued to have a higher rate of current illicit drug use than women (8.5 percent vs. 4.5 percent) in 1997.


oThe current illicit drug use rate in 1997 was 8.1 percent in the West region, 7.3 percent in the North Central region, 5.8 percent in the South, and 4.7 percent in the Northeast.

oThe rates of use in metropolitan areas are higher than rates in nonmetropolitan areas. Rates were 6.5 percent in large metropolitan areas, 7.1 percent in small metropolitan areas, and 5.2 percent in nonmetropolitan areas.


oIllicit drug use rates remain highly correlated with educational status. Among young adults age 18-34 years old in 1997, those who had not completed high school had the highest rate of current use (14.1 percent), while college graduates had the lowest rate of use (5.9 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 (48.6 percent of those not completing high school and 46.7 percent of college graduates).


oCurrent employment status is also highly correlated with rates of illicit drug use. An estimated 13.8 percent of unemployed adults (age 18 and older) were current illicit drug users in 1997, compared with 6.5 percent of full-time employed adults. (Figure 7).

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oSeventy-three percent of all current illicit drug users age 18 and older (8.3 million adults) were employed, including 6.7 million full-time workers and 1.6 million part-time workers.

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This page was last updated on February 05, 2009.