West Virginia Has the Highest Rate Of Mood-Altering Drug Use; How Drug Use Ties Into Overall Wellbeing

Mood-Altering Drugs
It's no coincidence that the state with the lowest ranking for wellbeing is also the one with the highest rate of mood-altering drug use. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

We all have our good and our bad days, and it’s not uncommon for people to unwind at the end of a long, tiring day with a glass of wine. But there’s a difference between unwinding after an especially stressful day and unwinding at the end of every day — one is healthy, the other is most likely an unhealthy means of coping with whatever life’s problems are. According to a new Gallup poll, about one in five Americans seem to be part of the second group.

As part of Gallup’s “State of the States” series, the survey asked 450 residents from each state how often they use mood-altering drugs or medication, including prescription drugs, to help them relax. Of all the states, West Virginians were reported using them the most, with 28 percent saying they took drugs to relax almost every day. They were followed by Rhode Islanders at 25.9 percent and Kentuckians with 24.5 percent. Alaskans, meanwhile, were the least likely to report drug use almost every day, with 13.5 percent of saying relaxed with them.

Interestingly, the findings correlate with another Gallup poll from earlier this year, which found West Virginia and Kentucky were two of the lowest-ranking states in terms of wellbeing. “It’s no coincidence that drug use was inversely proportionate to the [state] wellbeing score,” lead researcher Dan Witters told Live Science. He said that the things that cause people to feel down are “things that increase the chances of drug use” Obesity and workplace performance, among other factors, contribute to feelings of depression, low self-esteem, and stress, which could lead to drug use as a coping mechanism.

It’s unclear what drugs these people were using, as that was left up to them to interpret. But the researchers said it could have included prescription or recreational drugs, as well as alcohol and nicotine. Some participants may have also already been taking these prescription drugs to treat their own mental health or pain issues.

In February, when Gallup conducted its wellbeing survey, it noted that the key to higher rates of wellbeing lies in a variety of health, workplace, and societal factors, from obesity status to the development of disease, and workplace performance to crime rates. “States and local communities can use wellbeing concepts and the five elements [of wellbeing] as focal points in designing initiatives to improve wellbeing,” Gallup said. The five elements of wellbeing are purpose, social, financial, community, and physical — it’s likely that if people have a sense of wellbeing in these areas, they’d be less likely to use drugs.  

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