Contrary to popular drug policy discourses that portray drug users as descending from first use into a hell of dependence and addiction, a new analysis of data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) suggests that most first-time users of most drugs were not using them a year later and that for nearly all illicit drugs, more than 90% of first-time users did not become dependent.
The research report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found that only 1% of first-time users of inhalants and tranquilizers were dependent a year later. For hallucinogens and sedatives, the figure was 2%; for pain relievers and alcohol, 3%. The drug with the highest number of dependent users a year after first use was heroin (13%), followed by crack cocaine (9%), marijuana (6%), stimulants (5%), and powder cocaine (4%).
When it came to any use of the drug within a year after first use, only alcohol and marijuana broke the 50% barrier, with 71% and 52%, respectively. Less than 20% of first-time heroin or crack users were still using after a year without being considered dependent, while slightly more than one-third of stimulant and powder cocaine users were.
Such data may not fit some popular narratives about drug use -- particularly the widely-held notion that methamphetamine is "more addictive" than other substances -- but that's what the numbers say.