Drug use is prevalent throughout the world, in all populations, but most research is focused on urban drug use. And in a way, cities do have larger drug problems. Why? The answer is actually quite simple, but the question itself reveals a lot about addiction as a societal issue and can bring to light a number of other issues that should be discussed.
To put it as simply as possible, drug use is common in cities because cities tend to have larger populations than rural areas. There are more people within an urban city than there are within a rural town – but even more importantly, living together in such close proximity often causes other problems that increase the risk of drug use, not the least of which is that a greater population simply means a larger group of potential drug users.
This, in turn, reveals other problems. Urban communities share unique struggles, especially with crime and poverty, both of which often involve drugs either by way of culture, trauma, or otherwise. However, in addition to poverty being more prevalent in rural areas, addiction is not exclusive to the poor. Far from it, drug use is prevalent across the country, across all demographics, but at different rates. Exploring these issues says a lot about how risk factors determine a person’s likelihood of using and potentially abusing drugs, but also reveal how drug use and addiction is pervasive in all levels of society, like many other mental health issues, and why.
More People, More Drug Use
More people mean more drug users, as any given population on average is bound to have people who struggle with addiction, if drugs are at all available. However, a greater concentration of people often means more potential drug use because of other factors that commonly go hand-in-hand with a large concentration of people in a small patch of land.
High-density urban areas tend to be communities and neighborhoods with low incomes, where families live under harsher conditions in land they can afford. Poverty is inexplicably linked with higher rates of addiction because of the stress and desperation that comes from lacking any form of financial security, and a positive outlook for a hopeful future.
This desperation can also be linked to crime. Crime and drugs are linked for obvious reasons, as the illegal trade of drugs is one of the more lucrative ways to make fast cash despite high stakes, the kind of stress that might promote and perpetuate a culture within gangs that lack any assurance for their members that they would survive past the inebriated short term.
Poverty, drugs, and crime are linked by a long history of poor social mobility in low income neighborhoods, especially in cities where gentrification is pushing families out of their homes and boxing them further into smaller and smaller areas. Drug use is also more prevalent among people who are scared of their neighborhoods. Without the money to leave, they’re forced to stay and seek out any possible opportunities to find work, or at least manage to live while unemployed and in the company of family and friends. Of course, this applies to rural areas as well.
Rural Areas Are Just as Susceptible
Urban areas have more people per square mile, but rural areas are just as likely to struggle with drug use. While traditionally, the city and country dichotomy might have implied a large difference in the rates at which people use drugs in both environments, the numbers say that people in rural areas are just as likely to use drugs – but they use different drugs.
Those in rural areas are more likely to abuse alcohol and prescription medication, while cocaine and heroin are more common in cities than out in the country. While addicts seeking treatment in cities are usually ethnically diverse, most addicts entering in treatment in rural locations are white, as well as younger, although this also has to do with the fact that urban areas tend to be more ethnically diverse and the fact that rural addicts tend to start drug use earlier than people in the city. Education and employment rates among addicts were also higher in rural areas than in urban ones.
Drug Use in Affluence
While poverty is linked with addiction, so is affluence. Stress is stress, and severe stress is severe stress. Someone who grew up being poor is often quite capable of coping with the reality of poverty but will also face greater struggles than someone with better opportunities and easier circumstances.
But teens in affluent families grow up facing different kinds of struggles, usually revolving around the pressure to succeed, live up to a certain legacy, or simply engage in risky behavior as way to act out or experience something new – all of which leads to higher drug use than is the norm. Having deep pockets also helps finance a greater volume of drug use, only compounding the issue.
Everybody Can Recover
It can be difficult to find hope and strength when faced with some of the facts on addiction in America. But there is a bright side – more than one, in fact.
The numbers show that only a fraction of people who start using illicit drugs ever develop a problem – about one in five, by some estimates. Of these, many simply stop using after a certain number of years without professional intervention, although professional help would have probably saved the lives of those who pass away before they quit. Others who do keep struggling decades after use can still get clean and stay clean through a myriad of different addiction treatment programs, or through sober living homes and rehab centers.
Maybe the most reassuring fact is that most people with drug dependence issues can recover. Even if they struggle to do so at first, and even after many “failures” in the form of relapses, they still have the potential to quit for good. All it takes is time and support. However, many lack the support. Not everyone has a healthy coping or support system, and others lack the healthcare coverage to get the treatment they need.
Addiction needs to be fought like a disease, rather than a crime. By focusing on funding treatments and programs to help encourage people to get help rather than perpetuating their addiction through criminal punishment, a lot of progress could be made in lowering the rate at which people use and get hooked on drugs. Of course, it’s important to limit usage as well – but criminalizing drug use rather than treating it has not been doing much to stop the problem.