1996 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse: Preliminary Results

Previous Page TOC Next Page


In 1996, an estimated 13.0 million Americans were current illicit drug users, meaning they had used an illicit drug in the month prior to interview. This represents 6.1 percent of the population 12 years old and older.

Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug, used by 77 percent of current illicit drug users. Approximately 54 percent of current illicit drug users used marijuana only, 23 percent used marijuana and another illicit drug, and the remaining 23 percent used only an illicit drug other than marijuana in the past month. Therefore, about 46 percent of current illicit drug users in 1996 (an estimated 5.8 million Americans) were current users of illicit drugs other than marijuana and hashish (Figure 1).

Undisplayed Graphic

The number of current illicit drug users did not change between 1995 and 1996 (12.8 and 13.0 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 remained at approximately the same level since then (Figure 2).

Rates of use of marijuana, psychotherapeutics, cocaine, hallucinogens, or inhalants in the total population age 12 and older did not change significantly between 1995 and 1996 (Figure 3).

Undisplayed Graphic

Undisplayed Graphic


Rates of drug use show substantial variation by age. Among youths age 12-13, 2.2 percent were current illicit drug users. The highest rates were found among young people ages 16-17 (15.6 percent) and age 18-20 (20.0 percent). Rates of use were lower in each successive age group, with only about one percent of persons age 50 and older reporting current illicit use (Figure 4).

Undisplayed Graphic

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 8.4 percent for those age 26-34 and 5.2 percent for those age 35-49.

The percentage of current illicit drug users that were age 35 and older increased from 10.3 percent in 1979 to 26.1 percent in 1990. Between 1990 and 1996, the percent remained fairly constant (28.3 percent in 1996).

The percentage of adolescents (12-17 years old) using drugs decreased between 1995 and 1996, after several years of increase. 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, and in 1996 it was estimated to be 9.0 percent (Figure 5).

Undisplayed Graphic

The decrease in use among youths occurred only among those age 12-15 between 1995 and 1996, while no significant changes occurred for those age 16-17. For young adults age 18-25, there was also no significant change in the rate between 1995 and 1996, but estimates were slightly higher in 1996 and were significantly higher than in 1994. (Figure 6).

Between 1995 and 1996, the percentage of adults reporting past month illicit drug use remained about the same. In 1996 the rates were 15.6 percent for persons age 18-25, 8.4 percent for those age 26-34, and 2.9 percent for those age 35 and older (Figure 5).

Undisplayed Graphic

In 1979, the peak year for illicit drug use, rates were 38.0 percent for those age 18-25 years, 20.8 percent for those age 26-34 years, and 2.8 percent for persons aged 35 or older (Figure 5).

In general, the aging of people in the heavy drug using cohorts of the late 1970s, many of whom continue to use illicit drugs, has diminished any observable reductions in use among the 35 and older age group and has resulted in an overall shift in the agedistribution of the population of illicit drug users. This shift in the age composition of drug users is also reflected in data from the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), which shows that visits by patients aged 35 and older to hospital emergency rooms for drug related problems have increased in recent years (see Advance Report Number 17). For example, in 1985, 19 percent of cocaine-related episodes involved persons age 35 or older. By 1995, this percentage had increased to 42 percent.


The rate of current illicit drug use for blacks (7.5 percent) remained somewhat higher than for whites (6.1 percent) and Hispanics (5.2 percent) in 1996. However, among youths the rates of use are about the same for the three groups.

Most current illicit drug users were white. There were an estimated 9.7 million whites (74 percent of all users), 1.8 million blacks (14 percent), and 1.1 million Hispanics (8 percent) that were current illicit drug users in 1996.

There were no significant changes in rates between 1995 and 1996 for any of the racial/ethnic groups.


As in prior years, men continued to have a higher rate of current illicit drug use than women (8.1 percent vs. 4.2 percent) in 1996.


The current illicit drug use rate was 7.3 percent in the West region, 6.9 percent in the North Central region, 5.5 percent in the South, and 4.8 percent in the Northeast.

As a result of a significant decrease in the rate of use in nonmetropolitan areas, rates were higher in metropolitan areas than in nonmetropolitan areas in 1996.


oIllicit drug use rates remain highly correlated with educational status. Among young adults age 18-34 years old in 1996, those who had not completed high school had the highest rate of current use (16.8 percent), while college graduates had the lowest rate of use (6.9 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 (49.0 percent of those not completing high school and 48.6 percent of college graduates).


Current employment status is also highly correlated with rates of illicit drug use, as 12.5 percent of unemployed adults (age 18 and older) were current illicit drug users in 1996, compared with 6.2 percent of full-time employed adults. (Figure 7).

Seventy-three percent of all current illicit drug users aged 18 and older (8.1 million adults) were employed, including 6.2 million full-time workers and 1.9 million part-time workers.

Undisplayed Graphic

Previous Page Page Top TOC Next Page

This page was last updated on February 05, 2009.