Is Heroin The New Alcohol?

Substance use among Americans is transitioning from one deadly drug to another.

substance abuse treatment admissions by primary drug

Rates of Alcohol are Dropping and Heroin Use is Rising

In a recent analysis of data gathered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the team at Find Recovery observed a worry-some pattern. The graph above shows the number of individuals admitted to a substance abuse program for use of alcohol, heroin, other opiates, and alcohol with a secondary substance. Between 2007 and 2017, it is clearly observed that the rates at which Americans use Alcohol alone and with other substances have been declining. This decline would be more exciting if it was not also met with an equally significant rise in Heroin use. 

When observing this data, the first question that comes to mind is “Why? Why this shift from one dangerous substance to another.?” It did not take long for our team to make a connection between this data and a few major shifts already commonly known.

Prescription Opioids: Why Heroin Use Is On the Rise

The presence of heroin has been increasing for decades, with an increase observed since back in 1999. Yet, heroin and other opioid addiction did not start to rise significantly until about 2007. “What changed?” you might ask. Well, prescription opioids became the drug of choice for physicians across the country when patients came to them in pain and looking for relief. These prescription substances included oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), codeine, morphine, and synthetic opioids such as tramadol and fentanyl. The problem with these drugs that they are highly addictive, but people trusted it because they were prescribed by their doctor. 

Heroin: A Dangerously Cost-Effective High

As millions of Americans became physically dependant and undoubtedly addicted to these prescription opioid drugs, their tolerance grew and their bank accounts were drained. It didn’t take long before American’s addicted to prescription opioids switched to a cheaper, stronger, and easier to obtain alternative: heroin. 

The reality is that a drug dealer is significantly more likely to sell a fix of heroin to anyone with the money than a doctor is going to be to refill your prescription bottle for the 5th time this month. A substance that is 2 to 5 times stronger than morphine and potentially cheaper than prescription pain killers, heroin is an easy choice for anyone dealing with cravings.

A New Awareness of the Dangers of Alcohol Use

With an understanding of why heroin use is rising, the next question is why is alcohol use declining? One possible reason is due to an increased awareness of the dangers of alcohol use. 

A 2011 publication on PubMed.gov explored a bold claim that “alcohol is more dangerous than heroin” and this was just one of the many scholarly articles published on the risks and dangers of alcohol. Another article published by the Royal College of Physicians was titled “Is it time to ban alcohol advertising?” It seems that western society has caught on to the dangers of alcohol consumption. Studies are showing the truth, professionals as talking about it, and people are listening.

What is interesting is that the numbers show a decline in alcohol use with a second drug. This points to the fact that even individuals who use other substances such as heroin or other opiates are declining in their rates of alcohol use. Do these individuals not understand the dangers of opioid use? Perhaps they don’t, but perhaps the issue is something else.

Another event that may have sparked the decrease in individuals seeking help for alcohol addiction is the introduction of Vivitrol (Naltrexone), an opioid antagonist administered once-monthly for the treatment of alcohol dependence. In 2006, this drug was approved to be administered to treat alcohol dependence. Things began to level off and in the years following the approval, and decreased shortly after. 

Questions We Still Have

There are still a lot of questions. For instance, these numbers do not include individuals who are struggling with drug and alcohol addiction. How would those numbers affect the data? What can be done to help bring down overall addiction numbers? What should we expect in the coming years? Only time will tell. For the time being, we do what we know, education, early detection, and treatment.

References: https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/reports/rpt23259/NSDUHsaeTotals2018/NSDUHsaeTotals2018.pdf
https://www.drugs.com/newdrugs/vivitrol-approved-alkermes-inc-cephalon-inc-alcohol-dependence-403.html
https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/relationship-between-prescription-drug-abuse-heroin-use/increased-drug-availability-associated-increased-use-overdose
https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/relationship-between-prescription-drug-abuse-heroin-use/heroin-use-driven-by-its-low-cost-high-availability
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21665157-is-alcohol-more-dangerous-than-heroin-the-physical-social-and-financial-costs-of-alcohol/
https://www.drugs.com/newdrugs/vivitrol-approved-alkermes-inc-cephalon-inc-alcohol-dependence-403.html

10 Sober Activities to Keep You Busy & Sober Throughout The Coronavirus

For individuals in recovery, a routine is important. The recommendations to stay home, practice social distancing, and basically avoid other people where possible can be frustrating and lonely. Social isolation means avoiding group support meetings in addition to other potential changes in one’s day-to-day life. Maybe you are not able to go to work, school, or family gatherings. Although it could be tempting to drink or use drugs while you sit at home, look at this newly found free time in a new light. How many times have you thought “if there were only a little more time in the day?” Any extra time you have is time that you can spend doing all the things that for years you wished you had time to do. 

In case you can’t think of all of the things that you have wanted to do over the years, here are 10 activities that you can do, not only while you are sober, but to help keep you sober. And, no, none of them include Netflix.

1. Read A Book

Is there a book that you have been meaning to read? Now is the perfect time to pick it up. Maybe you were reading a few pages at a time, but now you might actually be able to finish it!

2. Learn A New Skill

Who doesn’t want a new skill? This could be any new skill. Maybe you have been wanting to learn how to knit a sweater, or maybe the skill is to learn how to code. The possibilities are endless! Maybe find an online class, read some articles, or watch a Youtube tutorial to help you along the way.

3. Work on a Business Idea

Many people have an idea for an invention or a business, but simply don’t have the time to create a proper business plan and put it into action. What better time is there than now? This could be the start of a whole new adventure for you, in the best way possible!

4. Clean Your House

Let’s be honest here, at least half of the people who will read this article probably have many chores around the house that need to be done. Fold that laundry! Wash the dishes! Vacuum and mop the floors! You will be surprised how amazing it feels to have a wonderfully clean home. There are no excuses left, the time to clean is now!

5. Perfect a New Recipe

Nutrition plays a huge role in recovery, so why not try and perfect a new recipe. Heck, maybe work through an entire cookbook worth of recipes. This could even be your new skill.

6. Workout

A gym is not necessary to work out. Download some Jillian Michael and get yourself moving! If you have some dumbbells and a yoga matt, then now is the time to take them out. However, all you really need is your own body. Move over the coffee table and stretch in the living room or consider going for a run.

7. Paint a Picture

It doesn’t have to be good, but it could be. Painting is very therapeutic and entertaining. You just might end up with a fun new piece of art to hang on your wall.

8. Start a Blog or Vlog

Individuals in recovery have a lot to offer to those who do not think they are capable of overcoming their addiction. Take your extra time to start a blog or vlog and tell your story. Share what you can and spread words of support and success. 

9. Spend Time Getting To Know Your Roommate or Loved One

If you live with a roommate, family member, or romantic partner, your time and distance from others give you a special opportunity to bond with each other. Talk. Ask questions. Learn something new about one another that you may not have known before. Learn to appreciate each other in a new way. For goodness sake, this is the person you may look back at in 10, 20, 50 years from now as the person you hunkered down with during the Coronavirus outbreak.

10. Work on Your Recovery

Regardless of whether you are in a 12 step program, another recovery program, or not following a specific program at all, this is time that you can spend working on your recovery. Reflect on what you have done and how you are moving forward. Work through your steps. Think about how you will work on rebuilding relationships that may be strained. There is always work to do.


If you are worried about getting supplies for anything listed here, remember that delivery is an option. Just be sure to disinfect anything before you bring it into your home. Maybe you only do one of these activities, maybe you do them all! Just keep your sobriety in focus and keep in contact with your support system. Stay sober and stay safe!