The cost and consequences of alcoholism and drug dependence place an enormous burden on American society. As the nation’s number one health problem, addiction strains the economy, the health care system, the criminal justice system, and threatens job security, public safety, marital and family life.
Too often, however, addiction goes untreated. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, of the estimated 22.7 million individuals aged 12 or older who needed treatment for an illicit drug or alcohol use problem, only 2.5 million received treatment at a facility specializing in alcohol and addiction treatment, such as a hospital, drug or alcohol rehabilitation or mental health center. Thus, 20.2 million persons who needed treatment for an illicit drug or alcohol use problem did not receive it.
Addiction is a Disease
The American Medical Association, American Psychiatric Association, and World Health Organization, have stated that addiction is a disease. As defined by the National Institute on Drug Abuse addiction is a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. It is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain; they change its structure and how it works. These brain changes can be long lasting and can lead to many harmful, often self-destructive, behaviors.
Treatment is Available
Similar to other chronic, relapsing diseases, such as diabetes, asthma, or heart disease, addiction can be managed successfully. The first step for the addicted person and/or the family members involved, is to acknowledge that there is a dependence or addiction problem. The next step is to get help.
Because alcoholism and drug dependence have so many different dimensions and disrupt so many aspects of an individual's life, treatment is not simple. Treatment options for addiction depend on several factors, including what type of substance it is and how it affects the patients. Typically, effective treatment programs incorporate a number of components, aimed at helping the individual to stop using alcohol or drugs, maintain a drug- or alcohol-free lifestyle, and achieve productive functioning in the family, at work, and in society. With its complexities and because addiction is typically a chronic disease, people cannot simply stop using drugs or alcohol for a few days and be cured. Most patients require long-term or repeated episodes of care to achieve the ultimate goal of sustained abstinence and recovery in their lives.
However, treatment is not the end, it’s the beginning, say many who have found help for their addiction. “The problem was not drinking or drugs,” they say. “The problem was learning how to live life without drinking or drugs.”
Recovery Brings Joy
Recovery is never out of reach, no matter how hopeless your situation seems. Change is possible with the right treatment and support – even if you’ve tried and failed before. The road to recovery often involves bumps, pitfalls, and setbacks.
But getting help can open up new doors, and confronting alcohol and drug problems in your life – or the lives of those you love – can provide a proven pathway to a healthier and more productive life.
Recovery is possible. In fact, we estimate that over 20 million individuals and families are living life in recovery!