Last Updated on August 7, 2015 by Morris Green
According to the Huffington Post, addiction is America’s most neglected disease. In today’s society, we often think of addiction as a choice. We pressure loved ones to stop their addictive habits and get clean, but we fail to understand the facts about their addiction. In essence, we contribute to the growing problem of America turning a blind eye to a nationwide epidemic.
What is Addiction?
Just what is an addiction? Like so many words in the English language, the question depends on whom you ask.
Dictionary.com defines addiction as “being enslaved to a habit or [a] practice.” It goes on to classify addiction as a “psychologically or physically habit-forming” practice, such as taking narcotics. When left unchecked addiction leads to the self-inflection of severe trauma.
The dictionary gives us the black and white of the word, but in medical terms, it takes on a slightly different characterization. In the medical word, addiction (substance use disorder) is defined as alcohol and drug abuse and dependence.
Moreover, if you ask the average person what addiction is, the answer will vary. Society has redefined addiction as a commonplace thing we all dabble in because we’re all addicted to something, from the Internet to chocolate.
Before addiction in the terms of alcohol and drugs can be treated, it must be properly recognized. Then, it needs to be properly treated. Treatment isn’t in the form of a miracle pill or a singular set of classes; it involves psychological and social therapies that evolve as the patient recovers coupled with medications used to treat dependences.
Addiction in the United States
According to a study conducted by Columbia University, some “40 million Americans [from] age 12…meet the clinical criteria for addiction.” US News reports that this number supersedes that of Americans with heart disease, diabetes or cancer. In addition, some 80 million more people are identified as “risky substance users,” which means while they are not addicted, they use addictive substances in a way that threatens public health and safety.
Just five years ago, in 2010, more than 38 thousand people died due to drug overdoses in America. This number is larger than the total number of deaths attributed to homicides, motor vehicle accidents, and suicides. The fastest growing drug problem in the U.S. is overdose deaths due to opioids (i.e. narcotic pills, such as Methadone, Oxycontin, Percodan, and even heroin).
Death is merely one side of the addiction issue; the other is in family dysfunction. Addiction does more than harm the user physically and mentally. It imposes financial and legal problems, increases domestic violence and child abuse, contributes to unplanned (even unwanted) pregnancies, and is directly linked to more than 50 percent of motor vehicle accidents in the nation.
The Addiction Epidemic Spills into Prisons
Thanks to its going largely unrecognized, addiction has turned into an epidemic of enormous proportions. It’s spilling into our prisons has more and more jail and prison inmates are incarcerated for a charge having to do with drugs and/or alcohol. They serve their sentence and are returned to the street without their addiction ever being addressed or treated.
According to the study conducted by CASA Columbia, only one in 10 people suffering from a drug and/or alcohol addiction report receiving any treatment. When compared to the fact that approximately 70 percent of people with diabetes or hypertension receive treatment for their illnesses, the lack of treatment for addiction becomes dramatically apparent.
Local Change = A Better Tomorrow
There is no doubt addiction is an under-acknowledged and treated disease. It secures a foothold as secure as dangerous as any virus, and when left untreated, it can cause a full blown condition that without proper medical treatment will not remedy itself.
US News reports that most people who seek addiction treatment are directed to Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous. They’re usually sent to a 12-step recovery program and left with the sentiment that only they can make the decision to get clean.
The truth is addiction changes how the brain operates. Long time addicts are rewired to physically need their fix, which can turn any 12-step program into the equivalent of taking a cough drop for pneumonia. Says US News, “Perhaps the most neglected interventions for addiction are medical-assisted treatments.”
When we as a nation fail to recognize addiction as a disease, we fall behind in effectively combating it. Local change is the answer. Before addressing addiction on a national scale, we must address it in our own backyard.
Affecting Local Change
How can we combat drug and alcohol addiction in our local area? We’re already doing some proactive things:
- Neighborhood Watch: Your local neighborhood helps keep shady characters away, which can assist in keeping drug dealers out of our neighborhoods. By cleaning up crime, we take a step closer to an addiction free tomorrow.
- Community Programs: Our local community supports many programs designed to assist those coping with lack of proper role models to poverty – a wide range of elements that can push people to trying and dealing in substances.
While our current efforts are noble, one of the most neglected is education. Addiction education is critical for both addicts and their loved ones. Education starts with accurately defining addiction and learning about treatment options. It involves continued education including how addiction occurs, how to spot it, where to get help, and what to do to recover. But education doesn’t stop at recovery.
For those recovering from addiction, reinforcement is crucial. The want to return to the substances responsible for addiction can hit at any time. The best solution is to seek out evolving treatment utilizing therapy and medical assistance while providing a supportive environment in which a person can always return for support and help.
Isn’t it time we started treating addiction like the disease it is? Isn’t it time to stop turning a blind eye and start facing this epidemic head on? You can do your part by something as simple as sharing this article with your friends and family. Encourage them to share it, too. Together, we can begin to educate our community about the truth behind addiction.