U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration

Function Navigation

Bookmark and Share

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 2007, nearly 12.6 million women aged 18 years and older reported using an illicit drug within the past year, representing 10.9 percent of this population. In comparison, 18.4 million men, representing 17.1 percent of the adult male population, used at least one illicit drug in the past year (data not shown). Past-year illicit drug use was highest among females aged 18–25 years (29.1 percent), followed by females aged 12–17 years (18.0 percent); past-year use was lowest among women aged 26 years and older (7.9 percent).

Use of all drug types, except inhalants, was highest among females aged 18–25 years, with 23.1 percent reporting past-year marijuana use and 13.7 percent reporting non-medical use of prescription-type psychotherapeutic drugs. Use of inhalants in the past year was highest among females aged 12–17 (4.0 percent), compared to 0.9 percent of those aged 18–25 and 0.1 percent of those aged 26 years and older.

Marijuana was the most commonly used illicit drug among females aged 12–17 and 18–25 years, and was the second most commonly used drug among women 26 years and older. Short-term effects of marijuana use can include difficulty thinking and solving problems, memory and learning problems, and distorted perception.

Non-medical use of psychotherapeutics was the most commonly used drug among women aged 26 years and older and was the second most commonly used drug among younger females. 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.1

The percentage of women reporting non-medical use of psychotherapeutics varied by race and ethnicity. Among women aged 18 and older, American Indian/Alaska Natives were most likely to report the use of psychotherapeutics in the past year (8.5 percent), followed by non-Hispanic women of multiple races (7.6 percent), and non-Hispanic White women (6.1 percent). Slightly more than 4 percent of non-Hispanic Black women and 5.0 percent of Hispanic women also reported non-medical use of psychotherapeutics.

1 National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse. Drugs of Abuse Information: Drugs of Abuse/Related Topics [online] Jan 2008. http://www.drugabuse.gov/drugpages.html, accessed 03/03/09.

Back to Top