Comparing Trends for Co-Abuse of Alcohol and Drugs from 1997 to 2007

Many people struggle with dependency on drugs or alcohol, and find themselves in a cycle of rehabilitation and relapse that is discouraging, expensive and detrimental to many physical and psychological areas of their lives. While struggling with either drugs or alcohol can be very difficult, it is common for those experiencing difficulty with one substance to easily fall into abuse of another.

A recent examination of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reveals that co-dependence or abuse of alcohol and drugs is a consistent problem. While substance abuse programs continue to adapt to current trends to help individuals overcome addictions, the abuse of multiple substances (especially in general, alcohol and drugs) remains a challenge.

The 2008 NSDUH reported that 54 percent of persons indicating treatment for drugs in the last year also had been treated for alcohol, and 37 percent of those who had treatment for alcohol also had treatment for drugs.

In both 1997 and 2007, the NSDUH showed that the most common combinations of alcohol and drug co-abuse were alcohol and marijuana and alcohol and cocaine. The combination of alcohol and cocaine, however, decreased between 1997 and 2007, going from 51.1 percent to 44.8 percent.

Overall trends show that between 1997 and 2007. co-abuse declined. The proportion of substance abuse treatment admissions that reported co-abuse of alcohol and drugs decreased from 44.2 percent to 38.3 percent. The proportion of admissions for alcohol only also decreased, from 27.7 to 22.3 percent. However, drug-only admissions went up, from 25.7 percent to 36.4 percent.

The majority of those admitted for co-abuse in both 1997 and 2007 were male and non-Hispanic White. Employment status was also consistent, with most admissions not being in the labor force or were unemployed. About a third of admissions had less than a high school education, and about one-fifth had some college education.

The common sources for referral were the criminal justice system or self- and individual referrals. The referrals from healthcare providers decreased between 1997 and 2007, going from 22.9 percent to 18.5 percent.

Relapse is a consistent problem. In 1997 and 2007, nearly two-thirds of co-abuse admissions had been in treatment once before.

While the overall proportion of substance abuse showed a decline in co-abuse admissions, it was still over a third of all admissions in 2007. Combined with the information that over two-thirds of admissions are there for a relapsed condition, it is critical to consider the impact of co-abuse.