Drug addiction has become a critical problem in the United States. As of 2017, more than 19-million Americans, aged 12 and up, suffer from drug addiction. This number is staggeringly high and only growing worse. It’s not only the United States which faces the concern of drug related crimes and addiction. Other countries all around the world are dealing with this issue of drugs in a regular basis. As substance abuse continues to gain speed globally, it’s helpful to examine the differences between the U.S. and other countries suffering from drug addiction.

Throughout this article, we’ll compare statistics between the U.S. and other countries with high substance abuse numbers. We’ll also consider incarceration and possession laws within the U.S. compared to other countries. It’s important to note that not all countries have access to the same recovery aids we have in the United States. From online addiction counselling to in-patient addiction care, and recovery coaching help comes in many shapes and forms.

Addiction Statistics in the United States vs. Global

Based on the International Classification of Diseases reported by the World Health Organization, addiction is diagnosed based on the occurrence of three or more of the following symptoms within the same year:

“(a) a strong desire or sense of compulsion to take the substance;

(b) difficulties in controlling substance-taking behavior in terms of its onset, termination, or levels of use;

(c) a physiological withdrawal state (see F1x.3 and F1x.4) when substance use has ceased or been reduced, as evidenced by: the characteristic withdrawal syndrome for the substance; or use of the same (or a closely related) substance with the intention of relieving or avoiding withdrawal symptoms;

(d) evidence of tolerance, such that increased doses of the psychoactive substance are required in order to achieve effects originally produced by lower doses (clear examples of this are found in alcohol- and opiate-dependent individuals who may take daily doses sufficient to incapacitate or kill nontolerant users);

(e) progressive neglect of alternative pleasures or interests because of psychoactive substance use, increased amount of time necessary to obtain or take the substance or to recover from its effects;

(f) persisting with substance use despite clear evidence of overtly harmful consequences, such as harm to the liver through excessive drinking, depressive mood states consequent to periods of heavy substance use, or drug-related impairment of cognitive functioning; efforts should be made to determine that the user was actually, or could be expected to be, aware of the nature and extent of the harm.”

Taking this into account, research shows that there is a higher occurrence of substance abuse and addiction in Eastern Europe and the United States than anywhere else in the world. As of 2016, 1 in 20 people in the U.S. and Eastern Europe were affected by drug addiction. That’s 6% of the population. In other parts of North America, South America, and Europe only 2-5% suffer from addiction, while numbers are lowest in Asia and the Mid-East at 1-2%.

Breaking down these addictions by drug, there’s a more defined answer on which countries have higher usage statistically. The country with the highest use of cocaine, for example, is Scotland. This might be surprising, considering what a small country Scotland is compared to the United States. Canada is the second largest consumer of cocaine in the world. Meanwhile, Afghanistan is the country with the highest rate of opiate consumption (due to their natural opiate crops), but the United States leads in prescription opioid overuse. In fact, the National Institute on Drug Abuse states, “Every day, more than 130 people in the United States die after overdosing on opioids. The misuse of and addiction to opioids—including prescription pain relievers, heroin, and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl—is a serious national crisis that affects public health as well as social and economic welfare.”

Knowing that much of the addiction in the United States is encouraged using prescriptions, it’s more important than ever to understand why overuse is occurring and put a stop to it.

It’s not only drug use on the streets and at home which has become a problem around the globe, there’s also a strong correlation between drug use and prisons. In the next section we’ll more closely examine the use of drugs in prisons around the world and the statistics of crimes relating to drugs which result in incarceration.

Drugs and Incarceration in the United States vs. Global

Drug abuse takes addicts on many paths, some of which are illegal in the United States. Whether arrested for using, selling, or transporting drugs, there’s a strong correlation between abuse and incarceration. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, as of September 2019, 45.3% of prisoners in the United States were incarcerated for drug-related charges. 

How do American incarcerations stack up against global prisons? The 2019 World Drug Report indicates that while Asia has the highest number of incarcerations in the world, it’s followed closely by the Americas. 35% of prisoners world-wide are incarcerated in the Americas. While Asia has a higher number of prisoners overall (this is due to a population that is 3x higher than the United States), the Americas have the highest rate of incarcerations at 142 incarcerations per 100,000 people. A large portion of all incarcerations in wealthy countries, like the United States, are made up of inmates challenged with a substance use disorder.

For many individuals, drug use doesn’t stop once incarcerated. In fact, the same report from above states, “Based on a total of 149 studies in 62 countries, an estimated one in three people held in prisons worldwide report that they have used drugs at least once while incarcerated”. This may be surprising to those who believe that imprisoning addicts could potentially keep them drug-free.

There’s a reason so many prisoners in the United States and overseas have roots in drug related offences. In many countries, there are steep penalties for drug use. Let’s take a closer look at what some of these look like.

Drug Penalties in the United States

In the United States, the penalty for drug addiction can be quite steep, especially if an addicted individual is selling to others. There are different fines and jail-times based on the drug and the act. According to Research by the Legislative Attorney of 2014, the main drug-related acts which are penalized in the United States are:

Possession: As the title suggests, possession involves carrying or storing a drug for personal use only without the intent to share or sell to others. Possession penalties are gauged on the type of drug, amount of drug in possession, and whether it is a first, second, or third offence. The federal guidelines for simple possession in the United States are as follows:

  • First Offence – $1,000 or more in fines and up to one year in prison.
  • Second Offence – $2,500 or more in fines and up to two years in prison.
  • Third Offence – $5,000 or more in fines and up to 3 years in prison.

Trafficking: Distributing and selling drugs illegally in the United States is defined as trafficking. Trafficking charges are based on the drug being sold and at what amount. For example, Heroin penalties are as follows:

  • 1 to 99g – $1 to $5 million dollars and a maximum of 20 years in prison.
  • 100 to 999g – $5 to $25 million dollars and 5 to 40 years in prison.
  • 1kg and up – $10 to $50 million dollars and 10 years to life in prison.

Smuggling: Smuggling is the act of bringing illegal substances in or out of the United States. There are different fines for every country, and some of these may vary based on the drug type and amount. In the United States any act of smuggling, no matter the drug, carries a penalty of up to $250 thousand dollars and up to 20 years in prison.

Racketeering: Racketeering often involves both smuggling and trafficking and is a full-fledged business operation rather than a part-time money-making effort. Racketeering drugs in the United States is a very serious offence and has the same $250 thousand dollar and up to 20 years of prison penalty as smuggling. An additional crime associated with racketeering is called Continuing Criminal Enterprise (CCE), or the Kingpin Statute. This includes a 1st and 2nd time penalty, being:

  • 1st offence – Up to $2 million dollars and 20 years to life in prison.
  • 2nd offence – Up to $4 million dollars and 30 years to life in prison.

Drug Penalties Globally

The United States has some strict penalties for drug related crimes, including possession. The same crimes are managed differently around the world. Some countries are stricter, while others have no penalties.

In Portugal, Law 30/2000, which passed in 2001, decriminalizes all personal possession and use of drugs. This law includes regulations on the amount of drug in possession. Any individual found with drugs on their person must only carry enough for 10-days or less, of personal use.

While Portugal has lightened the laws on drug use, other countries have increased them. In Singapore, for example, drug laws are known to be some of the strictest around the world. Possession of Marijuana carries a hefty fine of up to $20 thousand dollars and jail-time from 1 to 10 years. Meanwhile, possession of over 15g of Heroin warrants the death penalty. Possession of class A, B, and C drugs is also punishable by lashes with a cane. These extreme penalties may seem unheard of in the United States, but are common place for other countries.

Due to the severe drug penalties in some countries, there aren’t many rehabilitation options available. For example, in Singapore, the lack of recovery centers leaves residents seeking outside support from other countries. This forces us to look at recovery as a whole, and what statistics tell us about recovery in the United States.

What Addiction Statistics Say About Recovery

Seeing the correlation between drugs, prison, and the increasing drug statistics in the United States, it’s not surprising that there’s a high need for recovery assistance or stricter laws enforced for high level drug dealers and traffickers (perhaps death penalty laws for high level drug dealers and traffickers will decrease the drug problem in the United States). According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration 2017 annual report, out of more than 20-million addicted individuals in the U.S. needing recovery services, only 4-million received help.

This lack of treatment is due in part to a lack of government funding. The Center on Addiction writes, “Each year federal, state and local governments spend close to $500 billion on addiction and substance abuse, but for every dollar that federal and state governments spend, only 2 cents goes to prevention and treatment.” This puts the onus of treatment on private institutions and the substance abuser themselves.

Fortunately, with modern technology there have been huge improvements in the field of recovery. One of which is online addiction counseling and recovery coaching. Online counseling provides access to a recovery coach trained to help someone with substance use disorder to manage triggers, urges, and potential relapses. This non-medical professional has the practical skills to support  the substance abuser as they face the long road of recovery ahead.

A recovery coach works closely with a client to help in many ways, including finding affordable and reliable medical recovery help. A recovery coach may also work with friends and family to show them how best to support the substance abuser. They may create a “life plan” which outlines the steps a client can take to get clean, rebuild their life, and excel as they carry on.

It’s important to understand that addiction is a disease, not just a habit. There’s no cure for drug addiction. It’s an ongoing process, which involves patience, positivity, and plenty of support. The healing experience is a long and rocky one, but with the help of a recovery coach, substance abusers aren’t alone. They have someone to lean on and reach out to every step of the way.  With the option to use these services through the internet, there’s more privacy, less scheduling conflicts, and no geographical issues.

In Conclusion

While the United States is seeing high numbers for drug abuse compared to other countries, there is support available for those who seek it out. Almost 60% of those who recover from addiction will relapse within one year. This is why it’s so critical that more support be given to recovery efforts around the country.


For substance abusers in any around the globe, the option of online addiction counseling and online recovery coaches solves many problems associated with unavailable support. The first step is asking for help.