The Opioid Epidemic and Drug Use Statistics in Alabama

Alabama is in the grips of an opioid and drug addiction epidemic. According to the Alabama Department of Health, an estimated 2.45 percent of the state’s population — more than 91,000 people — have suffered from addiction to illicit drugs. Addiction is a complex and often isolating disease that does not discriminate against those it affects. Opioid and drug addiction not only impact the sufferer, but family members, friends, and the community as a whole. 

The Opioid Epidemic in Alabama

Opioids are a class of prescription medications that are used for their analgesic effect and pain relief properties. Opioids are generally prescribed to treat chronic moderate-to-severe pain. Opiates are most often prescribed after injury or surgery. However, the specific function of opioid prescription medications and their effect on the human brain makes them highly addictive — especially when not used properly or taken for extended periods of time. 

Commonly prescribed opioids include:

  • Hydrocodone
  • Codeine
  • Oxycodone
  • Hydromorphone 
  • Morphine
  • Fentanyl
  • Methadone

Opioids work by attaching to opioid receptors on the nerve cells in the brain, spinal cord, and in other parts of the body. Opioids help to block pain messages being sent from the body to the brain through the spinal cord. This analgesic effect provides relief from conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, certain cancers, traumatic injuries, and post-surgery. 

Risks of Opioid Addiction 

Even short term, the use of opioids often poses a risk of dependency that may require intervention in order to avoid withdrawal symptoms. Opioid drugs can trick the brain into believing that they are necessary for survival. Longer term use may make an individual need higher and higher doses in order to receive the pain relief benefits of opioids, which can result in drug addiction

Over time, people who are addicted to prescription opioids may not be able to get them from doctors any longer, turning instead to illicit drugs like heroin. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Alabama has the highest per capita opioid addiction rate in the United States. Approximately 175,000 Alabama residents have reported using prescription opioids for non-medical purposes and over 300,000 reported having an addiction to painkillers or heroin.

Despite the risk of chronic abuse and addiction, Alabama physicians prescribe opioids more often than in any other state. According to the Alabama Department of Mental Health, in 2016, there were 121 prescriptions written for every 100 residents — more than double the national average. Recognizing the extent of the ongoing opioid crisis in Alabama, Governor Kay Ivey established the Alabama Opioid Overdose and Addiction Council on August 8, 2017. The Council was charged with the task of developing a comprehensive strategic plan to combat the opioid epidemic in Alabama.

Drug Overdoses and Fatalities

In the United States over 100 people a day die from drug overdoses. Most of these overdoses are directly correlated with prescription opioid abuse and addiction. According to Alabama’s Department of Public Health, overdoses accounted for just over 50% of all emergency room visits statewide and over 870 people died from prescription painkiller overdoses. Several studies found fentanyl to be the culprit behind the influx of overdoses in Alabama and across the United States. Fentanyl is a potent synthetic opioid that is often mixed with illicit drugs such as heroin and even used to create fake opioids often sold on the streets. The rising presence of fentanyl throughout communities nationwide accounts for a marked increase in the number of fatal opioid overdoses in 2020.

Substance Abuse in Alabama

Geographically centered next to the Gulf of Mexico in combination with the vast rural communities spread throughout the state, Alabama sets the stage for an exceptionally convenient landscape to cultivate and traffic drugs. However, opioids are just one part of the addiction epidemic in Alabama. According to an anonymous student survey,  2.45 percent of Alabamians over the age of 17 have suffered from addiction to illicit drugs or other substances. Furthermore, the reports revealed that teenagers in Alabama are more likely to have used alcohol or drugs than their cohorts in other states. 

Alcohol Abuse

When an individual misuses alcohol, whether binge drinking occasionally or drinking to excess regularly, it is considered alcohol abuse. Alcohol addiction in Alabama continues to prove itself to be a pervasive problem as the state ranks 17th nationally in alcohol related deaths. SAMHSA’s Behavioral Health Barometers survey found that each year 225,000 individuals 12 years of age and older were addicted to alcohol in Alabama. During the same period, 267,000 adults 21 years of age or older per year reported heavy alcohol use in any given month. Recent surveys of people over the age of 17 have suggested that 22.93 percent of adults in Alabama report binge drinking or regular excessive alcohol intake. 

Marijuana Abuse

While rates of marijuana use in Alabama tend to be lower than the national average, 5.3 percent of adults over the age of 17 have reported frequent use of the drug. With more and more states legalizing marijuana for medical or recreational use, cannabis abuse has been increasing — especially among younger people. 

Cocaine Abuse 

Cocaine is an extremely potent, stimulant drug that is highly addictive. Long term cocaine use can cause serious health consequences that range from heart problems to full-blown psychosis. Cocaine addiction in Alabama is one of the most severe threats throughout the state. In 2019 an estimated 87,000 people in Alabama reported cocaine use within the previous year. Cocaine addiction accounted for roughly 8 percent of all Alabama substance abuse treatment admissions statewide.

Methamphetamine Abuse

Methamphetamine, also known as crystal, meth, blue, or ice, is a highly addictive stimulant narcotic that affects the central nervous system. Chronic meth use can lead to serious health consequences, including: anxiety, hallucinations, paranoia, skin and dental problems, violent behavior, increased heart rate, stroke, and even death. Methamphetamine has been reported as one of the fastest growing illicit drugs in Alabama. Methamphetamine abuse in Alabama increased hospitalization rates by over 245 percent from 2008 to 2015. In Alabama, meth overdose related deaths also increased at an astonishing rate. 

Alabama Drug Rehab

While addiction may be scary, there is hope. If you or someone you know has an addiction to opioids or other substances, it may be time to get help. At Birmingham Recovery Center, we understand the challenges each individual faces when addressing drug addiction in Alabama. This is why we are dedicated to helping our clients not only achieve abstinence from substance use, but also to make important changes that will result in a better life. By utilizing evidence-based therapeutic and pharmacological treatments, our team can help you or your loved one stop the pattern of substance use. If you are ready to take the next step in your recovery, call Birmingham Recovery Center right now for a free consultation and assessment.


  • Ian Henyon, LPC

    Having worked in a variety of clinical settings since 2008, Ian brings well over a decade of treatment center experience to the leadership role at Birmingham Recovery Center. As Executive Director, he is responsible for all aspects of BRC’s operations and provision of services. Being firmly grounded in the notion of servant leadership, Ian is focused on establishing a supportive work environment as a foundation for providing superior clinical services to BRC’s clients. Ian combines his extensive knowledge of treating addiction and psychiatric illness with the recognition that addiction is a disorder of the brain, to ensure that all clients are treated with the highest levels of respect and compassion. Ian is a licensed professional counselor. He is a graduate of the University of Georgia and he received a Master of Science degree from Prescott College.


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