The Impact Of Substance Abuse On Society

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on March 27, 2020

Prolonged drug and alcohol use alters brain function and can lead to harmful and destructive behaviors. The longer an addicted individual waits to seek treatment for their substance abuse issue, the more difficult it may be for them to recover from an addiction.

Impact Of Substance Abuse On Society

Substance abuse is a serious issue that affects millions of Americans and their families. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2013, more than 24.6 million Americans over the age of 12 have used an illegal drug within the past month.

In addition, more than 30 percent of men and 16 percent of women over the age of 12 reported binge drinking alcohol within the past month.

Ways That Substance Abuse Has Affected Society

The impact of substance abuse on society is far-reaching.

Some of the ways substance abuse has affected society include:

  • exacerbating or worsening mental health issues
  • leading to premature deaths
  • increasing violent crimes
  • destroying families
  • preventing addicted individuals from living productive lives

Substance abuse affects many more people than just the addicted individual, including their family members, neighbors, employers, and friends.

The inability of the addicted individual to live a healthy, full life is one of the most unfortunate ways substance abuse has affected society.

Economic Impact Of Substance Abuse

Substance abuse creates a range of consequences beyond impairing the individual.

The impact of substance abuse on the economy is vast, but can include the following:

  • loss of productivity in employees
  • absenteeism for health complication
  • financial distress to fund the addiction
  • loss of employment due to legal consequences
  • increased criminal activity
  • unexpected expenses for related health issues

A long-term issue with drug or alcohol use can leave addicted individuals feeling desperate to cover up their addiction issues and pressed to afford more drugs or alcohol.

The individual stress of living with addiction can be crippling and feeds into the overall impact of substance abuse on the economy.

Impact Of Addiction On The Family

The impact of substance abuse on families can include financial distress, loss of relationships, legal problems, and emotional strain.

Addicted individuals may isolate themselves from their friends and family to avoid the stigma of their substance use.

They are more likely to spend time with others who are also addicted to drugs or alcohol so they do not have to explain their issues or confront any negative perceptions of their behavior.

Some individuals struggling with addiction become entirely consumed by funding their addiction and seeking out drugs or alcohol.

This can interfere with their ability to parent their children and may even result in them losing their parental rights, or severing other relationships, such as with parents, siblings, or partners.

Above all, the impact of substance abuse on families makes getting treatment for an addicted family member a top priority for their loved ones.

Impact Of Drug-Related Crime On Society

Drug addiction can drive an individual struggling with substance abuse to engage in dangerous behavior to facilitate their addiction.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, about 18 percent of state and federal prisoners reported that they committed a crime to obtain money to buy drugs.

Along with the criminal consequences for addicted individuals who turn to crime, the lives of crime victims are affected by the offenders’ drug use.

The National Crime Victimization Survey revealed that more than 26 percent of victims of violent crimes reported that they perceived the offender to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol when they committed the crime.
Health Effects Of Substance Abuse

Long-term substance abuse can severely damage brain activity.

Alcohol abuse can result in such consequences as:

  • serious liver damage
  • loss of memory
  • brain damage
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • heart disease
  • kidney failure
  • infertility
  • sexual dysfunction
  • loss of coordination

Drug use can permanently alter the brain and negatively affect a person’s ability to make decisions and take care of themselves.

Drug use that involves needles (IV drug use) increases the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS and other life-threatening diseases. Also, drug use that involves smoking can lead to respiratory problems, including lung cancer.

How To Reverse The Impact Of Substance Abuse On Society

The numerous ways substance abuse has affected society show how important it is to seek treatment for those struggling with addiction.

The loved ones of addicted individuals also need to consider what treatment options exist so they can aid their struggling family members in seeking recovery.

Removing the stigma associated with seeking treatment is an important first step, and it is important to remember that substance abuse issues can affect any family in the U.S.

In sum, intervention and assistance for an addicted loved one should be attempted as soon as possible.

In the event that an addicted individual is resistant to treatment and has engaged in dangerous or illegal behavior due to drug or alcohol use, court-ordered addiction treatment may be a workable option.

If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse, contact our addiction treatment specialists today for information on available addiction treatment options.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

Addiction Resource aims to provide only the most current, accurate information in regards to addiction and addiction treatment, which means we only reference the most credible sources available.

These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.

  • Was this Helpful?
  • YesNo
Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on March 27, 2020


Canton, Massachusetts

Bedrock Recovery Center


Levels of Care:

Payment Options: Insurance Accepted, Self Pay

View Center Profile


Plymouth, Massachusetts

Ohio Recovery Center


Levels of Care:

Payment Options: Insurance Accepted, Self Pay

View Center Profile

Spring Hill Recovery Center

Ashby, Massachusetts


Addiction Resource Logo