Illicit Drug Use

Illicit drug use is associated with serious health and social consequences, such as impaired cognitive functioning, kidney and liver damage, drug addiction, and decreased worker productivity.1 Illicit drugs include marijuana/hashish, cocaine, inhalants, hallucinogens, crack, and prescription-type psychotherapeutic drugs used for non-medical purposes. In 2006, nearly 12.6 million women aged 18 years and older reported using an illicit drug within the past year; this represents 11.0 percent of women. In comparison, 18.2 million men, representing 17.1 percent of the adult male population, used at least one illicit drug in the past year. Past-year illicit drug use was significantly higher among women aged 18–25 years than among women 26 years and older (30.3 versus 7.8 percent). Among adolescent females aged 12–17 years, 19.7 percent used at least one illicit drug in the past year.

In 2006, marijuana was the most commonly used illicit drug among females in each age group, followed by the non-medical use of prescription-type psychotherapeutic drugs. Short-term effects of marijuana use can include difficulty thinking and solving problems, memory and learning problems, and distorted perception. Prescription drugs commonly used or abused for non-medical purposes include opioids, central nervous system depressants, and stimulants. Long-term use of these drugs can lead to physical dependence and addiction. In addition, when taken in large doses, stimulant use can lead to compulsivity, paranoia, dangerously high body temperature, and an irregular heartbeat.ibid Use of all drug types, except inhalants, was highest among females aged 18–25 years, with 24.2 percent reporting past-year marijuana use and 13.9 percent reporting non-medical use of prescription-type psychotherapeutic drugs. Use of inhalants in the past-year was highest among females aged 12–17 (4.7 percent), compared to 1.2 percent of those aged 18–25 and 0.1 percent of those aged 26 years and older.

Methamphetamine is a stimulant with a high potential for abuse, and use can result in decreased appetite, increased respiration and blood pressure, rapid heart rate, irregular heartbeat, and hyperthermia. Long-term effects can include paranoia, delusions, hallucinations, and stroke.ibid The Monitoring the Future Survey estimates that, in 2006, 1.8 percent of women aged 19–30 years used methamphetamine and 1.3 percent used crystal methamphetamine. Use of crystal methamphetamine was more common among females than males in this age group, while there was no difference in the use of methamphetamine (data not shown).2

Females Reporting Past Year Use of Illicit Drugs, by Age and Drug Type, 2006 [D]

1 National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse. Drugs of Abuse Information: Drugs of Abuse/Related Topics [online] Jan 2008., accessed 03/31/08.
2 Johnston, LD, O’Malley, PM, Bachman, JG, & Schulenberg, JE. Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use: 1975-2006: Volume II, College students and adults ages 19-45 (NIH Publication No. 07-6206] Bethesda, MD: National Institute on Drug Abuse. 2007.

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