Addiction In America: Addressing an Epidemic

Chemical dependency is a form of mental illness that unfortunately cannot be cured, but can be successfully treated and arrested. A person who suffers with this illness can recover, but they must continue maintenance by taking care of themselves and working a program of recovery. Addiction is similar to Type I diabetes, where patients must constantly monitor their blood sugar and take insulin each day. This is a form of maintenance that cannot be neglected and failure to stay on top of the condition often results in potentially fatal side effects.

The addiction/diabetes comparison is meant to drive home the importance of a continued program of recovery. While there is plenty of scientific evidence to support the disease model of addiction, society has long viewed the condition with much skepticism. Someone who has never experienced the incredibly powerful grip that addiction can have over one’s life may find it difficult to understand and to empathize with those who suffer with it. Often those struggling with addiction must face difficult moral decisions to avoid excruciating physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms. This cycle of cravings, compulsion and the need to avoid the physical and psychological suffering that substance dependence creates leads to devastating consequences for the person with the illness.

Helping the rest of society understand what it is really like to experience addiction is nearly impossible, which leaves the door open for much judgment and shaming. The stigma that comes with treating a substance abuse or mental health disorder can often be a deterrent for individuals to seek help. This is how we find ourselves where we are today; many people not getting the life-saving treatment they need to recover from this deadly disease however just because we can’t fully understand what it is like to experience addiction, does not mean that we can’t offer people the necessary treatment they need in a caring and compassionate way, while not contributing to the shame they may already feel.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates there are some 2 million Americans with an opioid use disorder. However, the vast majority of these individuals are left untreated. Currently, there are more than 100 overdoses per day in the United States, resulting in death. This is something that needs to be addressed—sooner rather than later.

Changing The Conversations About Addiction

The nation’s second largest physician group, the American College of Physicians (ACP), has published a position paper which includes several recommendations for reining in the opioid epidemic. It is essentially a call-to-action, urging the medical community to do their part in helping resolve a problem which they had a role in creating. The authors of the paper reiterate the fact that addiction is not a moral failing, but rather a chronic illness which requires treatment and continuous recovery.

“We now know more about the nature of addiction and how it affects brain function, which has led to broader acceptance of the concept that substance use disorder is a disease, like diabetes, that can be treated,” writes the authors. “Physicians can help guide their patients toward recovery by becoming educated about substance use disorders, proper prescribing practices, consulting prescription drug monitoring programs to reduce opioid misuse, and assisting patients in their treatment.”

The paper was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

ACP Recommendations At A Glance

  1. Substance use disorder is a chronic medical condition and should be managed as such.
  2. Treatment-focused programs should be implemented as an alternative to incarceration or other criminal penalties for persons with substance use disorders found guilty of the sale or possession of illicit substances.
  3. Policymakers and researchers should assess the risks and benefits of removing or reducing criminal penalties for nonviolent offenses involving illicit drugs.
  4. Implementation of evidence-based guidelines for pain management. Expansion of access to naloxone, medication-assisted treatment, improved training in the treatment of substance use disorders, establishment of a national prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP).
  5. Health insurance should be required to cover mental health conditions, including the evidence-based treatment of substance use disorders, and abide parity rules.
  6. Increasing the number of professionals qualified to treat substance use disorders.
  7. Training in the treatment of substance use disorders should be embedded throughout the continuum of medical education.
  8. Continued research into the efficacy of public health interventions to combat substance use disorders and associated health problems.

The Stakes Of Individual Addiction

While the recommendations are aimed specifically at the opioid addiction epidemic, they can help anyone battling addiction to any substance. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only 18 percent of people with substance use disorders receive treatment. All those affected by this potentially fatal disease stand to benefit from having a wider range of treatment options. We need to make treatment more available so we can battle this deadly epidemic and ensure more of those in need are given the chance to recover.

Addiction not only affects certain individuals, it affects countless families and society as a whole. Mental health disorders that are left untreated place a huge burden on multiple systems, costing society billions of dollars every year. Treating addiction as a chronic illness like cancer, diabetes or heart disease can be in the best interest of those individuals suffering with the illness as well as for their families and our entire society.

Going Forward

Family Recovery Specialists (FRS) utilizes evidence-based practices in our treatment approaches and we constantly strive to provide families with the most innovative and customized treatment experience in the industry. The FRS staff truly understands substance use disorders and we make no judgments about how or why an individual may be abusing or dependent on substances. Our program offers evaluations, treatment, intervention and other addiction and recovery related services to help your family begin the journey of recovery. Please give us a call and begin your process of treatment and recovery today!

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