What Every American Needs to Know About Addiction and Recovery

November 15, 2016   Jacob Levenson

Published in Psych Central, November 15th, 2016. View the Article Here

Approximately 40 million people in the United States – including 17 million children – have some form of mental illness. And, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 50% of U.S. adults will develop at least one mental illness during their lifetime. These illnesses include depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder as well as addiction and Substance Use Disorder (SUD). Addiction is a chronic disease of the brain and affects approximately one in every 10 Americans over the age of 12 – a number that is roughly equivalent to the entire population of Texas.

Many Americans do not understand why or how certain individuals become addicted to drugs and/or alcohol, and there is a great deal of fear, stigma and misunderstanding about the disease. No single factor can predict whether or not a person will experience addiction. In fact, several factors – including genetics, the environment and personal development – combine to increase the risk.

The genes a person is born with account for approximately half of an individual’s risk for addiction, which sheds light on the common phrase that addiction is a family disease. It not only affects the entire family system, but science also demonstrates that addiction is passed along through generations.

Environment and social determinants of health, such as early exposure to drugs, early abuse, stress and general quality of life, are also factors that can contribute to a person becoming susceptible to addiction. When biology and environmental factors combine and result in an individual becoming addicted, personal development also comes into play. The earlier a person begins to use drugs, the more problematic it is to make sound decisions, exert self-control and practice good judgment.

An Epidemic

Our nation is in the midst of an unprecedented opioid epidemic. More people died from overdoses in 2014 than in any year on record and more than six out of 10 deaths involved an opioid (1). It is important to stay informed about addiction and recovery and to understand that if you or someone you know has not yet been affected by addiction, it is likely you will experience the impact of addiction in the future.

Our nation is preparing for a new President, and we expect to hear the new administration address the devastating opioid epidemic, the lives lost and the social impacts that addiction has collectively cost us. Resources and budgets have been written and proposed to combat this illness and its deadly side effects. As we look ahead, addiction treatment models are shifting and recovery management will be assisted by technology and resources not previously available.

What Every American Needs to Know about Addiction and Recovery:

  • Addiction is a chronic disease of the brain and needs to be treated as such with treatment plans, resources and a long-term approach to prevent relapse and readmission – a similar approach that we take with other chronic illnesses.
  • Addiction can appear to be bad behavior and oftentimes the side effects of addiction are inappropriate actions, poor choices, crimes, theft, etc. However, addiction is an illness and not a character flaw. Addiction is not a habit that can be broken; it is a disease that requires treatment and support.
  • The opioid epidemic results in $55 billion in health and social costs and kills approximately 30,000 American adults each year. (2)
  • The future of addiction treatment is changing and subsequent generations will have opportunities to receive treatment and support through telehealth, software platforms and data-driven technologies.
  • Addiction cannot necessarily be cured; however, long-term recovery is possible and the probability of maintaining recovery is significantly increased when providers extend the care continuum following discharge. In other words, when providers maintain connection with patients after treatment, patients are more likely to maintain recovery.
  • Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) has shown to be an effective treatment for opioid use disorder and other addictions and it is likely that the new presidential administration will consider continuing or increasing funding for this relatively new (and somewhat controversial) treatment.
  • Addiction and SUD is treatable, manageable and preventable. As our nation comes to terms with the devastating opioid epidemic, proactive approaches and collaborative treatment plans will set a new course to effectively combat this illness.


(1) http://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/Factsheet-opioids-061516.pdf

(2) http://www.asam.org/docs/default-source/advocacy/opioid-addiction-disease-facts-figures.pdf

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