This brief summarizes the contributions of Kaiser Permanente Research since 2007 on the topic of substance use disorders, including misuse of tobacco products, alcohol, prescription medications, and illicit drugs.
The office of the U.S. surgeon general defines substance use disorders as “medical illness(es) caused by repeated misuse of a substance or substances, characterized by clinically significant impairments in health, social function, and impaired control over substance use, and diagnosed through assessing cognitive, behavioral, and psychological symptoms.”1 They are neurobiological disorders that involve a complex interplay between genetics and environment, and they are often effectively treated.
The 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimated that 5.6% of Americans over age 11 have alcohol use disorders.2 One in 10 Americans age 12 and older use marijuana or illicit drugs.2 Approximately 2.3% of Americans misuse prescription drugs, while 4.4% misuse opioid drugs.2 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 15.1% of American adults are current smokers,3 while 3.4% use smokeless tobacco products.4 Misuse of all these substances varies with respect to the prevalence of use and use disorders — each has different risk factors, associated health risks, treatment modalities, and treatment outcomes.
Substance use disorders are an active area of study for Kaiser Permanente Research. Scientists across the organization have published more than 500 articles related to substance use disorders since 2007. These articles, which have been cited nearly 14,000 times, are the product of observational studies, randomized controlled trials, meta-analyses, and other studies led by Kaiser Permanente scientists. Our unique environment — a fully integrated care and coverage model in which our research scientists, clinicians, medical groups, and health plan leaders collaborate — lets us contribute generalizable knowledge on substance use disorders and many other topics of research.