Substance Abuse Before and After the Pandemic in the State of California: Solutions and Statistics

Although known for its many beautiful beaches and warm, sunny days, California is also where nearly 270 million people travel each year, visiting famous locales and sights such as the Golden Gate Bridge, Hollywood, Yosemite National Park, and Disneyland. While it appears to be a land of dreams; in reality, the population of California is grappling with high rates of a substance use disorder, much like other states within the nation are.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) defines a drug or alcohol addiction as a substance use disorder – known by the acronym SUD. Now, a substance use disorder is a pattern of symptoms that result from the use of a substance that is taken regularly, despite the problems experienced with its use.

Today, more than twenty-one million Americans are struggling with some form of addiction – which includes opioids, stimulants, dissociatives, hallucinogens, and other illicit substances. In California alone, though, 8% of the state’s population has been diagnosed as having a substance use disorder, which works out to approximately 2.7 million people.

The Most Abused Drugs in the State of California

Now, location can have an influence on the drugs that the majority of those with a substance use disorder are addicted to. An example would be that West Virginia has an incredibly high rate of opioid abuse that surpasses the rates of any other possible drug addiction. However, in California, several mind-altering drugs are abused at a high rate. These include (in consecutive order):


California is one of nineteen states that has been legalized for recreational and medicinal purposes. Much like alcohol, though, being legal does not mean that marijuana cannot cause problems for those who use it. Marijuana is the most widely used drug by far, as the California drug addiction stats show that approximately 35% of the population has reported using it – at some point. Although users might state otherwise, marijuana is an addictive substance, although repercussions of its use are typically less severe than, say, a heroin or meth addiction.

Outside of marijuana being legal, a primary reason behind the high usage rates for marijuana in California is because of the border that it shares with Mexico. The availability of marijuana in California makes it incredibly easy to obtain (and, thus, abuse) in the state of California.

Opioid Medications

Opioid medications include pain medications such as Percocet, OxyContin, Vicodin, and fentanyl. These are some of the most heavily used drugs across the country, and California is not exempt from those rates. Approximately 8% of the population of California has reported abusing opioid medications.

Addictions to opioids can progress in severity quickly, given that it can only take a matter of days for a dependency to develop. Abusing too many opioids or continuing their use over a long period of time can cause death by overdose or other health complications, which includes respiratory failure.


Cocaine is an illegal substance that produces a stimulant-like effect in its users. Those who use it are particularly drawn in by the rushing high and enthusiasm that it can produce. Now, given that certain parts of California – like Hollywood and its surrounding areas – are particularly high-paced, these areas can increase the likelihood of a person turning to cocaine for extra energy.

Much like marijuana, cocaine is the subject of heavy illegal drug trafficking from Mexico into California. This makes it very easy to find and use. Cocaine ranks in at number three on the list of drugs most abused in California, with 7.2% of the population reporting an addiction or dependency on it.


Drug addiction statistics in California reveal that heroin is the fourth most abused drug within the state, with approximately 0.4% of people in the age bracket of 18 to 25 reporting an addiction. Much like cocaine, heroine is an illegal substance that must be purchased from a dealer. It’s also an opioid, thus it produces the same effects as, say, OxyContin or fentanyl.

Due to heroin being an opioid and its ready availability, many Californians with an opioid addiction turn to heroin when they run out of money and are unable to afford the costs associated with prescription opioids.

Overdose and Death Rates in California

According to the Riverside County addiction statistics, in the state of California the fatal overdose rate is at approximately 12.8%, which is lower than the 14.5% national average. When looking closer at the statistics, it reveals that opioid overdoses claim approximately six lives out of every 100,000.

Additional statistics provide the following information when it comes to overdose and death rates, which include:

  • Men are more likely to die of an overdose than women, with 16.2% of men dying from a drug overdose in comparison to an 8.3% death rate among women.
  • The indigenous populations suffer more overdoses in the state than any other ethnicity, with 33% of drug-related overdose deaths occurring amongst their populations.
  • Opioid prescription medications are the cause of 3.2 deaths per 100,000 people in the state; this is followed by heroin, responsible for 1.4 deaths per 100,000; and then fentanyl, responsible for 0.9% deaths per 100,000.

Even with the appearance of these stark statistics, California is in good shape when it comes to comparing it to other states’ rates of addiction. Part of this comes down to the variety and wide selection of substance use disorder treatment options throughout the state. There are multiple options when it comes down to treatment facilities for addiction in California, which puts it well ahead of many other states which may only have a select few treatment facilities with limited slots

It is also important to note that California has several levels of treatment programming available. Everything from detox services and residential treatment is available, down to outpatient programs and sober homes for those recovering from their addiction. Currently, despite the range of options available for treatment, only approximately 12% of those who need treatment follow through on obtaining it.

Struggling with an Addiction? Help is available

With the rise of addiction rehabilitation centers, there is help available for those who need it. Safe Haven Recovery, located on Coldwater Canyon Drive in Beverly Hills, is one of many options for those looking for a safe, trustworthy option to help them deal with their substance use disorder or problems with addiction.

At Safe Haven, much like many other treatment centers throughout the state, patients can feel like they are on a luxurious vacation without ever needing to leave Los Angeles County. It is one of many options within the state of California available to those searching for options for treating their substance abuse disorder and getting it back under control. Remember: help is out there; you only need to reach out for it. You are not alone.

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