Striking California Drug Use Statistics

Read about California drug use statistics and find ways to combat addiction with We Level Up CA.

Drug use in California is a serious problem that affects people of all ages and backgrounds. It affects health, relationships, and communities. We Level Up California will explore different aspects of abuse in California and examine the statistics and trends. As an addiction and mental health treatment center, we feel it is our duty to go over the California drug use statistics and see how prevalent various substances are, from the usual drugs like marijuana to prescription medications and newer synthetic drugs. Also, we want to see how substance abuse impacts different age groups, as well as go over the opioid crisis in California. We want to show you how crucial treatment and the availability of resources are.

Overview of California drug use statistics

Let’s look at the statistics of the most commonly used substances in California:

  1. Amphetamines
  2. Heroin
  3. Alcohol
  4. Marijuana
California drug use statistics


Amphetamines are quite potent stimulants – methamphetamine and dextroamphetamine being two common types. The rapid onset of euphoria, enhanced attention, and vigor make these compounds especially popular. They have a variety of uses, including recreational and, in rare instances, performance enhancement.

But amphetamines can cause serious health problems if used for an extended period of time. Issues with the heart – such as hypertension (high blood pressure and heart rate) – are among them. They can even trigger heart attacks. Also dominant are mental health disorders such as anxiety, paranoia, and hallucinations.

You must look for expert help if you develop an addiction to amphetamines (because prolonged usage can cause death in extreme situations).

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Heroin is classified as an opioid and is infamous for its intense effects and high risk of addiction. It’s popular because of the strong feelings of relaxation and pleasure it can induce. Following consumption, euphoria, drowsiness, and a calm state are typical.

The addiction to heroin becomes highly probable as users develop a tolerance swiftly – necessitating increased quantities of the drug to replicate the initial effect. This escalation can spiral into a perilous cycle of dependence and addiction.

We at We Level Up California must warn you that severe health risks are associated with heroin. Overdoses – which are not uncommon and potentially lethal – are characterized by symptoms such as:

  • slowed breathing
  • blueness of the lips and nails
  • skin that is cold and clammy
  • a state of unconsciousness

Prolonged usage can cause:

  • diseases of the liver and kidney
  • complications in lung function
  • issues with mental health

The likelihood of contracting infectious diseases like HIV and hepatitis is markedly higher because of the practice of injecting heroin, especially when needles are shared, or injection methods are unsafe.

According to drug use statistics in California, 25% of admissions to the state- and county-contracted substance use disorder (SUD) treatment programs are because of heroin.

Syringes on a yellow background
California drug statistics show that heroin is the reason for 25% of admissions to addiction treatment programs


Despite its legal status and social acceptance, alcohol is a substance whose abuse can result in serious health consequences. As a depressant, it impacts the central nervous system. Its effects on the body vary depending on the amount consumed.

The ability of alcohol to calm the mind and improve mood is a common reason why people like to consume it. Moderate consumption has the side effects of euphoria and increased sociability. Yet, higher quantities impair judgment, coordination, and reaction time.

Addiction to alcohol, also referred to as alcoholism, can be the result of excessive drinking. Chronic abuse of alcohol inflicts harm on the body, leading to liver diseases such as:

  • cirrhosis
  • heart complications
  • a heightened risk for certain cancers

Mental health is also affected, with contributions to conditions including depression and anxiety.

In the context of California, 12% of admissions to substance use disorder (SUD) treatment programs contracted by the state and county are attributable solely to alcohol abuse.

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Widely recognized for its psychoactive effects, marijuana, or cannabis, is a substance derived from plants. The mind-altering impacts of marijuana are attributed to a chemical it contains, known as THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). Its ability to induce relaxation and alter sensory perceptions leads to its usage. If you use it, you may experience:

  • euphoria
  • a distorted sense of time
  • intensified sensory experiences

Marijuana has the potential to impair cognitive processes, which can affect memory, judgment, and coordination. These effects raise particular concerns for younger users, whose brains are in the process of developing. Furthermore, regular marijuana use can result in dependence.

Analysis of drug use trends in California reveals that marijuana accounts for 10% of admissions to substance use disorder (SUD) treatment programs contracted by the state and county.

A group of teenagers
Nearly half of the 11th graders have had experience with alcohol or drugs, according to California drug use statistics.

Teenage drug use statistics California parents dread

In California, the issue of drug use among teenagers is notably serious. Statistics reveal that by the 7th grade, 14.0% of students have already tried alcohol or drugs at least once. Such early exposure accentuates the critical need for initiating drug education and prevention efforts at younger grade levels.

As students advance to the 9th grade, the proportion of students who have experimented with alcohol or drugs climbs to 30.5%. This trend indicates an increased likelihood of substance experimentation as students enter high school. Further, California drug use statistics show that by the 11th grade, the figure rises to 44.0%, illustrating that nearly half of students in this demographic have engaged with alcohol or drugs. At this pivotal age, targeted interventions become rudimentary to diminish substance use and mitigate its detrimental impacts.

Substance abuse in California among 12 to 17 year olds

California drug use statistics from 2018–2019 reveal that youth drug use in California is concerning. This period saw varying levels of substance abuse in the 12- to 17-year-old age group. Let’s examine the teenage drug use statistics in California more closely:

  • 8.8% of the 12- to 17-year-old population reported using any substance.
  • 1.8% of this age group engaged in alcohol use. When compared to the overall substance use rate, alcohol use is lower but still noteworthy, considering the legal drinking age in California is 21.
  • 3.7% of teenagers in this age group used illicit drugs. This is a higher percentage compared to alcohol use, indicating a greater prevalence of illegal substance use among teens.
  • 0.4% of the 12–17 age group abused pain medication. This is the lowest percentage among the substances discussed, but it still emphasizes a specific concern regarding prescription drug misuse among teenagers.

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What contributes to youth drug use in California?

There are several reasons young people in California might turn to drugs. Let’s look at them:

  • Peer influence is a significant factor. Teenagers and young people, in general, often feel the pressure to fit in. So naturally, if you feel isolated and want to become a part of a group, you may decide to try drugs or alcohol. And even if you are a part of a group, and you see your friends use substances, you may feel like you should participate.
  • Family dynamics also play a role. Young people are more likely to start using these substances themselves if there is a history of drug or alcohol use in the family. It is not uncommon for the children of addicts to become addicts themselves. Also, the risk of substance abuse and addiction increases when parents don;t pay enough attention to their kids or communication between them is not ideal.
  • Mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and stress can also lead teens to drugs. If you feel pressured or depressed, you may turn to substances as a form of self-medication. We understand that the relief these drugs offer can be appealing, but let us tell you that they are not the answer.
  • The availability of drugs contributes to youth drug use in California. In areas where drugs are easily accessible, the rate of drug use among youth tends to be higher.
  • Curiosity and the desire to experiment are natural during the teenage years. This curiosity can lead to trying drugs or alcohol, especially in social situations or as a way to seek new experiences.
  • The pressures of school and social life can be overwhelming for some teenagers. Drugs might be used as a way to cope with these pressures or to improve performance in school or sports.
  • The media portrayal of drug use can also influence youth drug use in California. If drugs are glamorized in movies, TV shows, or music, it can create the perception that drug use is normal or even desirable.
A student experiencing stress, which leads to substance abuse according to California drug use statistiscs
California drug use statistics reveal that academic pressure contributes to substance abuse.

The importance of early intervention

Programs focused on early intervention and prevention work to minimize risk factors, such as a family history of substance abuse and mental health issues, while educating young people on the perils associated with drug use. By providing education on coping skills, these initiatives enable youth to navigate challenges without turning to drugs. The involvement of families and communities strengthens the network of support for the young individuals involved.

These programs make it easier to spot early indications of drug use, which results in interventions that are both quicker and more effective. Additionally, support from counselors, teachers, peers and addiction treatment facilities such as our We Level Up California addiction treatment center plays a crucial role in assisting young individuals to adhere to a lifestyle free from drugs. The benefits of these programs are far-reaching, enhancing not only the health of individuals but also contributing to the well-being of communities at large and reducing the societal and healthcare costs associated with drug-related problems. These programs, as well as addiction treatment centers, can help make California drug use statistics better.

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Substance abuse is prevalent among adult Californians as well. Let’s explore some key findings from adult drug use statistics in California:

  • Among adults in California, 8.1% reported using any substance.
  • Alcohol use is significant, with 6.1% of adults in this demographic engaging in alcohol consumption.
  • The use of illegal drugs among adults stands at 2.9%.
  • 0.46% of adults admit to abusing pain medications.

Pain medication misuse is a common instance of substance abuse in California and is also a concern. Although lower than other substances, we believe this figure highlights the issue of prescription drug abuse among adults.

A person holding prescription drugs, substances that are commonly used among adults, according to California drug use statistics
Many people abuse prescription drugs, according to California drug use statistics.

The impact of illegal and prescription drug abuse on adults

Substance abuse in California among adults leads to serious health risks, including:

  • chronic diseases
  • mental health issues
  • greater likelihood of accidents and injuries

This abuse often results in:

  • reduced productivity
  • job instability
  • financial health
  • wider economic effects

Also, it strains family and social relationships and causes problems in marriage, familial neglect, and increased emotional and behavioral problems in children. On a community level, substance abuse elevates crime rates, healthcare costs, and demand for social services.

Opioid crisis in California

The overdose death rates in California show that the opioid crisis has affected various racial and ethnic communities differently. Let us take a look at the research findings and California drug use statistics:

  • The American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) community has one of the highest rates, with 15.7 deaths per 100,000 people. This high rate indicates a significant impact of the opioid crisis on this community.
  • Asian, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (ANHPI) communities have the lowest rate, at 1.4 per 100,000. While lower, it still represents a concerning issue within this community.
  • The African-American community also faces a high impact, with a rate of 12.3 deaths per 100,000. This statistic points to the need for focused efforts to address opioid misuse in African-American communities.
  • The Latinx community’s rate stands at 5.4 per 100,000. Although lower than some other groups, this figure still calls for targeted interventions in the Latinx population.
  • The white community has a rate of 12.6 deaths per 100,000, similar to the African-American community. This high rate shows the widespread nature of the opioid crisis across different racial groups.

California’s response to the opioid crisis

California has been taking some measures to deal with the opioid crisis and prescription drug abuse. These measures include:

  • reducing opioid prescriptions
  • monitoring drug use
  • expanding treatment options

These steps have clearly delivered some tangible results. Between 2010 and 2019, the rate of opioid prescriptions in California dropped by 34%. This decline shown in California drug use statistics is a result of efforts to limit the availability of prescription opioids.

The state has introduced a prescription monitoring program. It is a way to track prescriptions and has the goal to prevent over-prescribing and, consequently, misuse.

California has also established some guidelines for prescribing opioids. The aim is to educate healthcare providers on safer opioid use.

There is also a focus on increasing access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid use disorder. It is an evidence-based treatment modality that combines medication with counseling and different behavioral therapies in order to offer an exhaustive approach to treatment.

Still, despite these measures, the opioid crisis in California is relentless. Nonfatal emergency department visits for opioid issues increased from 1,362 in 2010 to 3,979 in 2020. Similarly, visits for heroin use rose from 4,304 in 2010 to 11,685 in 2020.

A person holding marijuana, a prevalent substance as shown by California drug use statistics
Contrary to popular belief, marijuana is not safe.

Marijuana use statistics in California

With the legalization of marijuana in California, shifts in consumption patterns have emerged, impacting different age demographics and healthcare services significantly. A striking figure – 18.8% of 11th-grade students in California report having used marijuana more than four times in their lifetime.

Moreover, a marked rise in emergency department visits and hospital admissions due to marijuana use has been observed. Between 2016 and 2019, these incidents increased by 89% ( escalating from 125,418 to 236,954), indicating a mounting public health issue.

This legalization has enhanced both the accessibility and societal acceptance of marijuana, potentially leading to elevated consumption rates. California drug use statistics show, and we wholeheartedly believe it, that monitoring these trends can help us understand the effects of marijuana legalization within the state. We are confident that getting to know the problem well is the best way to find a way to solve it.

In any case, we want to remind you that while the use of marijuana may offer benefits – such as pain alleviation, mood enhancement, and anxiety reduction – it is not without its risks. These include:

  • diminished cognitive functions,
  • the possibility of dependence,
  • and adverse impacts on lung health.

The effect on younger individuals is especially alarming, given the potential for hindering brain development.

A teenager talking to a therapist
Individual therapy will help you understand why you use substances.

Substance abuse treatment and resources

To recover successfully, you must seek treatment. Substance abuse is a complex issue, but we are here to remind you that with the right resources and support, effective treatment is possible. Here is how We Level Up California can help you:

  • Detoxification – The first step to clear your body of drugs. We feel it is our obligation to warn you that detoxing from substances like opiates might be dangerous. Our program for opiate detox in California is medically supervised to manage withdrawal symptoms safely.
  • Behavioral counseling – Counseling as a core component of treatment helps you understand the root causes of your addiction, develop coping strategies, and repair relationships. It includes:
    • individual therapy
    • group sessions
    • family therapy
  • Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) – Our experience has shown us that MAT can be highly effective for certain types of addiction, such as opioids. It combines medications with counseling and behavioral therapies. Medications can help manage withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings.
  • Dual diagnosis treatment – Many people with substance abuse issues also suffer from mental health disorders. Treatment for a dual diagnosis addresses both the substance use disorder and the mental health condition at the same time.
  • Long-term follow-up – Preventing relapse is an important part of recovery, and we at We Level Up CA wants to make sure that you stay on the right track after you leave our residential treatment center. Long-term follow-up includes ongoing counseling, support groups, and, in some cases, continued medication.
woman holding a pill
Medication-assisted treatment is effective for substances such as opioids.

Other prevalent substances in California

Other commonly abused substances in the state of California include:

  • Angel dust
  • LSD
  • Pink cocaine


NORCO combines hydrocodone (an opioid pain reliever) with acetaminophen, a non-opioid pain reliever. The NORCO drug is prescribed to reduce pain. In 2021, hydrocodone-acetaminophen was the fourth most prescribed medication – with 26,599,439 prescriptions. We have found that people use this substance primarily for pain relief. Its effectiveness in decreasing pain makes it a popular choice among prescribers and patients. According to California drug use statistics, between 2018 and 2019, 3.6% of the population aged 12 and above in California used this substance. This percentage indicates a notable level of use in the state.

The rate of overdose involving prescription medications (that include an opioid, such as hydrocodone) was 2.6 per 100,000 of the population. This shows the importance of prescription drug detox in California. We Level Up California detox center can help you stay safe when withdrawing from a substance.

Angel Dust

Angel dust is a street name for phencyclidine – commonly known as PCP. It’s a powerful hallucinogenic drug that alters perception. It can cause delusions and make you feel detached from the environment. As an illicit substance, the production, distribution, and use of the angel dust drug are illegal. From 2018 to 2019, an annual average of 1,204 thousand people in California used illicit drugs – including angel dust.

From California drug use statistics, we know that 2.9% struggled with substance use disorders related to illicit drugs. This percentage indicates a significant challenge in addressing the issue of illicit drug abuse, including the use of substances like angel dust.


LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) is a hallucinogen known for its powerful effects on the mind and perceptions. It can cause:

  • vivid hallucinations
  • altered sense of time and space
  • changes in mood and thought

LSD is typically consumed orally, often on small pieces of paper known as “tabs” or “blotters.”

Many people are not aware of the dangers of their actions or the risk of LSD overdose. According to California drug use statistics, between 2016 and 2019, LSD use in the US increased significantly. In 2016, 9.9% of people reported using LSD. By 2019, this figure had risen to 16.6%.

Pink Cocaine

Pink cocaine is another example of an illegal drug. It’s a street name for the synthetic drug 2C-B (2,5-dimethoxy-4-bromophenethylamine), which is part of the 2C family of psychedelics. It is known for its hallucinogenic and stimulant effects, often compared to a combination of LSD and MDMA (aka, ecstasy).

Despite its name, pink cocaine has nothing to do with actual cocaine – a stimulant derived from the coca plant. The use, sale, or possession of 2C-B is illegal in many countries, including the United States. Here, it is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance.

Your future depends on your decision to seek help

Addiction, whether to illicit drugs or prescription medications, can harm your health, relationships, and overall well-being. Therefore, make sure to recognize the problem and reach out for help. We have many resources and treatment options for you. They include detoxification programs, counseling, medication-assisted treatments, and support groups. Early intervention can prevent more severe health issues, mend strained relationships, and restore a sense of purpose and direction in life. Overcoming addiction starts with the decision to seek help. Let’s make sure that California drug use statistics start painting a better picture.


Health Care Almanac Substance Use in California: Prevalence and Treatment. (2022).

Topic: Drug use in the U.S. (2017).; Statista.

Acetaminophen; Hydrocodone – Drug Usage Statistics, ClinCalc DrugStats Database. (n.d.). Retrieved February 29, 2024, from

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