Another economic explanation is that the US a country with an expensive currency with many poor people and other potential customers for your drugs. Even if your poor and your life sucks your few dollars can buy the passage of drugs from abroad. Maybe sometimes its too hard to resist.
European countries with where recreational drugs are still illegal are generally abuse less drugs because they have less income inequality. Even when you have only a few euros, you can afford to go to university and lead a pretty comfortable life.
This may all change with mass unemployment and poverty austerity will cause, although. I really hope this will not be a race to the bottom.
Crystal meth and crack are one thing, but the consumption of cocaine and prescription medications is very wide spread among the upper working class -- lawyers, finance, sales, etc. These are the same people who pretty much run the US.
My friends that are middle and lower class don't do drugs, although they do drink a considerable amount of alcohol.
I went to high school in the city. It was common for kids to smoke weed after class and came to school drunk. As for the kids who went to school in the upper middle class town I grew up in, their problems included ODing on heroin. The kids that smoked weed might not have the most balanced careers, but that is a whole lot better than being dead because you ODed on heroin.
Of course that is all anecdotal. However, I think it is a major stretch to believe drug abuse has something to do with not making enough money.
The drug problem needs to be fixed first with ending prohibition. After that happens the vast resources being spent antagonizing a war can be redirected to figuring out how to fix the core problem -- people being more concerned about getting high than what the rest of their life is going to look like.
Uh what? That individuals consume some amount of resources to live doesn't mean that they live comfortably. There is going to be some kind of minimum amount you have to pay to live, as you can't get everything for free even if you are homeless. That even those with the lowest incomes use up resources equivalent to $20k per year doesn't mean that those people are living comfortably, but we can see for Americans that there is some kind of minimum cost to living even if you can't make enough to pay for it all outright.
Drugs and poverty are intersectional. Laws for drug offenses involving substances most prevalent in poor communities have and continue to have harsher penalties than for drugs that are prevalent in more affluent communities. Drugs are highly available in poor communities, both for addicts and for those that want to sell them since economic advancement through traditional channels are denied to them. Police agencies in many cities enforce crime in the poorer parts of town that are inhabited primarily by people of color much more often than in more affluent areas.
The effects of drug prohibition amplify exiting social and economic issues in US society, so we know that US drug policy has been a total failure and must be changed.
There is actually a lot of research suggesting that inequality in a society is itself the cause of many problems. This is not surprising to me, since, after all, it is ridiculous to speak of wealth in absolute terms. $20k doesn't mean anything.
$20k has a very well defined (albeit complex) meaning: it means that the sum of the prices of goods consumed by the individual adds up to $20k. (Note that the figures I gave for other nations were adjusted for PPP, so price levels are adjusted.)
I can think of no mechanism besides envy which would cause income inequality to harm anyone. It's not as if the US poor lack some good or service which is available in other, more equal societies.
Note that the Spirit Level only provides a correlation between inequality and other problems. It does not show the direction of causality.
Living in the Netherlands, uni-fees are roughly 1500e/yr (ex books), you receive a grant of 250e/mth grant possibly increased by a 500e/mth student loan and free public transportation during either the week or the weekend -- all during the nominal length of your study.
Cheapest bread is .5-.8e, a cheap room is 200e/mth, take out meal is 5-10e and a beer costs 2-3e. Your student job easily pays you 10e/h.