How Federal Surveys Estimate the Prevalence Of Substance Use Disorders

"Substance use disorders (SUDs) represent clinically significant impairment caused by the recurrent use of alcohol or other drugs (or both), including health problems, disability, and failure to meet major responsibilities at work, school, or home. NSDUH includes a series of questions to estimate the percentage of the population aged 12 or older who had SUDs in the past 12 months. Respondents were asked questions about SUDs if they previously reported use in the past 12 months of alcohol or illicit drugs. Illicit drugs include marijuana, cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens, inhalants, methamphetamine, and the misuse of prescription psychotherapeutic drugs (i.e., pain relievers, tranquilizers, stimulants, and sedatives). These SUD questions classify people as having an SUD in the past 12 months and are based on criteria specified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition (DSM-IV).30,31
"Because of changes that were described previously to the questions for the use of hallucinogens, inhalants, and methamphetamine and the misuse of prescription drugs, the sets of respondents who were asked the SUD questions for those drugs in 2015 could have differed from the corresponding sets of respondents who were asked these SUD questions in prior years. Consequently, the 2015 SUD estimates for those drugs are not comparable with the estimates from prior years. Also, questions were added in 2015 about SUD symptoms that respondents attributed specifically to their use of methamphetamine; prior to 2015, past year methamphetamine users were asked about SUD symptoms for the misuse of prescription stimulants. In addition, these changes are assumed to have affected the comparability of the overall SUD measures in 2015 with those prior to 2015 for illicit drugs and for any substance (i.e., illicit drugs or alcohol). Thus for these measures, the 2015 estimates are not compared with estimates from prior years. Because the questions did not change for alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, and heroin, estimates of SUDs for these substances in 2015 are assumed to have remained comparable with estimates from earlier years."


Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2016). Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (HHS Publication No. SMA 16-4984, NSDUH Series H-51). Pages 20-21. Retrieved from