Substance Abuse in California

The Varieties of Substance Abuse That Require Treatment

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California’s proximity to Mexico makes the state a hub for drug smuggling, putting millions of people in California at risk of drug dependency and abuse. The results of the latest Behavioral Health Barometer by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration show that 2.3 million and almost 950,000 California residents have an alcohol or illicit substance abuse or dependency problem, respectively. At a recent public health conference, Sue Grenfell of the California Department of Human Services stated that alcohol followed by marijuana, methamphetamine and opioids are at the top of the list of the different types of drug abuse experienced by people enrolled in the DHHS’ alcohol and drug program. 

The Number of People Seeking Treatment Is Dropping

Over the 4-year period studied by SAMHSA, there was a decrease in the number of people in California who sought treatment for different types of drug abuse. Only 12.6 percent of teenagers and adults who live in this state received treatment for a problem with illicit drugs, and a mere 8 percent were treated for alcohol abuse or dependency. According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, 36 percent of voluntary rehabilitation admissions were for methamphetamine and other stimulants. This significant percentage coincides with the 18,000 pounds of cocaine and 5,000 pounds of methamphetamine seized by the state of California in 2015. 

Drugs That Require Treatment

Imperial County and San Diego County sit on the border of California and Mexico. Per the information compiled by the National Substance Abuse Index, these two counties are major areas for the shipment of certain depressants, opioids, stimulants and hallucinogens. However, some of these substances are mass produced within the northern part of the state. Additionally, alcohol is also one of the several varieties of substance abuse in California, with over one-half the population engaging in alcohol overuse. Because of their prevalence, these are drugs that require treatment for those who reside in this state: 

– Alcohol
– Cocaine
– Heroin
– Marijuana
– Methamphetamine


In a ranking of excessive drinking by the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps program, 17 percent of adults reported engaging in heavy drinking or binge drinking. This puts California in the top 10th percentile of all 50 states for excessive drinking. One standard-sized drink elevates the typical adult’s blood alcohol content to approximately 0.015 percent, which a healthy liver can metabolize in about 1 hour. The Centers for Disease Control found that 24,000 alcohol drinkers die directly from alcohol poisoning per year. Long-term alcohol abuse may cause irreversible damage to internal organs such as the liver and heart, and 15,000 of people die from alcohol-related liver disease every year. 


Los Angeles, California is United States’ biggest distribution city for cocaine. The 1.1 million Americans who are dependent on cocaine will abuse this substance by swallowing crushed cocaine, snorting powdered cocaine, injecting dissolved cocaine or smoking cocaine powder. Even using a small amount of cocaine results in euphoria as well as an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. For some people, long-term use causes heart attacks and strokes. In other cases, a single dose of cocaine leads to an overdose, especially for people who use it intravenously, have a heart condition or mix it with another harmful substance. 


Heroin is a semi-synthetic opioid derived from poppy-plant resin and combined with ethanoic acid. To sell more heroin and boost profits, manufacturers will often cut the purity of heroin with many types of agents, such as starch, baking soda, talcum powder, caffeine and even rat poison. This means that a batch of heroin can range in purity from 3 percent to 99 percent, putting people at an additional risk of sustaining brain damage or dying from snorting or injecting heroin. Since heroin creates such an intense feeling of detachment and pleasure, it is easy for people to become dependent and eventually overdose. 


Although marijuana is at the forefront of many drug reform debates, its legality in California does not change the plant’s effects on the mind and body. For as long as 3 hours after smoking or ingesting marijuana, individuals may experience an increase in appetite, lack of coordination, a sense of relaxation and short-term memory dysfunction from marijuana’s active ingredient – THC. Frequent use can lead to more serious problems like insulin resistance, a weakened immune system, respiratory issues and male infertility. Marijuana-related fatalities are rare; however, it is a psychologically addictive substance, so a lot of marijuana users face financial problems and neglect responsibilities. 


California seized a whopping 300,000 pounds of MDMA in 2015, indicating that it is a popular hallucinogen among those who have a drug dependency problem. MDMA, commonly referred to as ecstasy and other slang terms, is a synthetic drug that releases dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin, putting the individual in an excitable trance-like state about 30 minutes to 1 hour after oral, nasal or rectal use, and the effects can last anywhere from 3 to 24 hours. Results from multiple studies suggest that people who use ecstasy are more prone to clinical depression. Plus, they are at risk of suffering from cognitive impairments, heart failure and heat stroke. 


With clandestine methamphetamine laboratories dotting California’s landscape along with an increasing number of labs appearing in Mexico, methamphetamine has a huge presence in California. Since the effects of methamphetamine are significantly more powerful and longer lasting than cocaine, this is a drug of choice for those who want to experience intense pleasure and euphoria. However, these effects also make methamphetamine more addictive than cocaine. As the individual’s bodily functions accelerate, he may become manic, distressed and violent. A methamphetamine overdose is often subtle, starting with a high temperature and ending in a fatal stroke or heart attack.

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