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More in U.S. Say Drug Abuse Has Caused Family Trouble

More in U.S. Say Drug Abuse Has Caused Family Trouble

Story Highlights

  • 30% say drug abuse has caused family trouble, up from 22% in 2005
  • 37% say drinking has caused family trouble, matching historical high
  • Smoking has caused serious family health problems for 43%

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Thirty percent of Americans say that drug abuse has caused trouble in their families. This is a significant increase from 22% in 2005, the last time Gallup asked the question, and a signal that the nation's opioid epidemic, which has worsened in recent years, is taking a toll.

Line graph: Americans' views on whether drug abuse has been a source of trouble in their family, 1995-2018. 2018: 30% say yes.

The latest reading, from a July 1-11 Gallup poll, marks the sixth time Gallup has asked the question dating back to 1995, when 19% of Americans said drug abuse had caused trouble in their families. Overdoses from prescription opioids began to increase around 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), with a sharp increase in heroin overdoses in 2010 and another increase in 2013 as a result of synthetic opioids.

Between 1999 and 2000, the percentage of Americans saying drug abuse was the cause of family problems increased five percentage points to 22%, and it remained at that level through 2005. Although Gallup did not ask about the effects of drug abuse on families between 2005 and 2018, the latest figure, a historical high, tracks with the overall increase in deaths from opioids over that period.

While there are few differences in reports of drug-related family trouble by age, income, education and urbanicity, there are notable differences by region and gender.

  • Americans residing in the West (38%) are much more likely than those in the Midwest (27%), the South (26%) or the East (28%) to say their family has been affected by drug abuse. A similar pattern has been seen in previous Gallup polling. CDC data on opioid overdoses find that the West region was second to the Midwest region in showing the greatest increase between 2016 and 2017.

  • Women (33%) are more likely than men (26%) to say drug abuse has caused family trouble.

Alcohol Also a Source of Family Trouble

More Americans say drinking has caused family troubles than say the same of drug abuse. The current 37% reading matches Gallup's historical high from July 2004 for this question, which was first asked in 1947 and has been featured consistently since 1974.

Since 1997, the percentage of Americans saying their families have been negatively affected by drinking has been mostly at or above 30%. Before that, Americans were less inclined to say alcohol caused family troubles. This is not attributable to an increase in the percentage of Americans who say they drink, as that has varied little since Gallup began asking about alcohol consumption in 1939. Instead, it could be the result of heightened awareness of alcohol-related problems in society.

Line graph: Americans' views on whether alcohol has been cause of family trouble, 1947-2018. 2018: 37% say yes, tied for top reading.

Those who personally abstain from drinking alcohol are more likely than those who drink at least occasionally to say alcohol has caused trouble in their families, 44% to 33%. This is further evidence of a pattern seen in past Gallup polling. While it is not possible to determine the reason for this trend based on the data, it is conceivable that those who have experienced problems in their families as a result of alcohol may avoid it as a consequence. Or it may be that those who do not drink are more likely than those who do to characterize incidents related to alcohol consumption as problematic.

Smoking Causes More Problems Than Obesity Does in Americans' Families

In addition to asking about family troubles related to alcohol and drug use, the survey also asked about family problems -- namely, health problems -- related to smoking and obesity.

Americans are much more likely to say smoking has caused serious health problems in their families than they are to say the same of obesity. Forty-three percent now say smoking has caused health problems. Gallup has asked this question eight times beginning in 1999, and the results have varied little -- ranging between 39% and 45% -- even as the overall rate of smoking in the population has decreased. Women and nonsmokers are more likely than men and smokers to say their families have experienced serious problems as a result of smoking.

Meanwhile, 24% of Americans say obesity has caused serious health problems in their families, nearly the same percentage as in 2007 (28%), the only previous reading for the question. Women, younger adults and those who say they are currently overweight are all more likely than their counterparts to say obesity has negatively affected their families' health.

Americans Reporting That Each Has Been a Cause of Serious Health Problems in Their Families
Yes No
% %
Obesity 24 76
Smoking 43 56
GALLUP, July 1-11, 2018

Bottom Line

Of four health issues tested by Gallup, smoking and drinking create more problems in American families than drug abuse and obesity. Yet the opioid epidemic, which President Donald Trump declared a public health emergency last October and which has driven up public perceptions of the nation's drug problem, appears to have resulted in an uptick in the number of American families that have experienced trouble stemming from drug abuse.

Although drinking is still considered morally acceptable to most Americans, reports of family troubles associated with alcohol currently match their historical highs. Meanwhile, the U.S. smoking rate has hit a new low and most Americans view cigarettes as very harmful, yet more American families have experienced serious health problems from cigarettes than from any of the other health issues tested. As smoking becomes less prevalent, its negative effects on Americans' health will likely begin to decline.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted July 1-11, 2018, with a random sample of 1,033 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 70% cellphone respondents and 30% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View survey methodology, complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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