THE SOBERING REALITY OF AMERICAN ADDICTION AND RECOVERY
Every September, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) sponsors National Recovery Month to help raise awareness. And it’s with good reason, because the numbers are staggering. But even more alarming than the data about addiction and recovery in America is the hidden potential for disaster.
Big Numbers and Obscured Truths
The first thing one must recognize when examining data on addiction and recovery is just how incomplete the data really is. There are several reasons for this. First, financial realities necessarily limit the frequency with which comprehensive studies can be performed, so virtually all available data is already several years old. Next, one must consider how the social stigmas surrounding addiction and recovery essentially ensure that a sizeable portion of addicts, both recovering and active, likely kept their conditions closeted. It is also worth noting that while most studies exclude figures on tobacco addiction from their surveys, they also fail to gather data on sex addiction, as well as work, gambling, and other addictions deemed to be “less serious” than drug and alcohol addictions.
So the real picture of addiction in the US doesn’t even exist. Instead, we have to extrapolate from the data we have.
Roughly 21 million Americans are in recovery from drug and alcohol addictions today, though some studies suggest that it could be as much as 23 million, or 10% of the adult population. Either number is larger than the number of cancer patients from all cancers combined.
However, once again, the reality is probably far worse. In 2015, over 27 million people in the US reported current use of illicit drugs or abuse of prescription medications, and over 66 million (nearly a quarter of the adult and adolescent population) admitted to binge drinking alcohol within the previous month. When one considers the fact that only 1 in 10 addicts receives treatment, it is easy to see how much worse it could actually be.
Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
Because drinking is almost universally accepted by society, alcohol abuse naturally comprises the biggest slice of America’s addiction landscape by far. At least 65% of substance abusers are alcoholics (some estimates go as high as 80%), and about 16% of those are also addicted to illicit drugs. To make matters worse, it’s estimated that as much as 95% of those who need treatment for alcoholism don’t feel that they need treatment, yet more people receive treatment for alcohol abuse than for any other substance.
Despite this, statistics on alcoholism remain one of the relative “bright spots” in the American addiction landscape due to data that suggests alcoholism rates may be declining slightly. However, other studies suggest the opposite is true.
The Cost of Addiction
Every day, more than 115 people die from drug overdoses, a rate that has tripled over the past two decades. Meanwhile it is estimated that alcohol-related deaths claim nearly 100,000 American lives per year, making it the third most preventable cause of death behind only tobacco and obesity.
In terms of dollars, a 2016 Surgeon General’s report puts the economic cost of alcohol abuse at $249 billion, and the cost of drug abuse at $193 billion, a total of $442 billion, nearly twice the cost of a disease like diabetes.
In response to these swelling numbers, the treatment industry has also grown about 300% in the past 25 years. Today, approximately 14,000 addiction treatment facilities nationwide account for upwards of $35 billion in revenue. It’s estimated that every dollar invested in treatment for substance abuse saves $4 in health care costs and $7 in criminal justice costs. However, government investment in treatment options remains minimal.
Below the Surface
While many of these statistics are indeed eye-opening for many, perhaps the most alarming figure is one that is not even reported in tandem with substance abuse data: about half of American adults have experienced trauma in their lifetimes.
At Next Chapter, we know unresolved trauma to be an underlying cause of essentially all the dependency and psychological conditions we treat. Trauma, especially in early childhood, usually results in the adoption of coping mechanisms that can evolve into dysfunctional behaviors such as drug and alcohol abuse later on. While it’s important to note that the presence of childhood trauma doesn’t mean that an individual will abuse or become addicted to drugs or alcohol, it does indicate a much greater likelihood. People who have experienced trauma are four times more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol.
Today, over a quarter of children in the US will witness or experience a traumatic event before their fourth birthday. 40% report experiencing physical assault within the past year, with one in ten having received an injury. Nearly 14% have repeatedly experience maltreatment from a caregiver, and about 4% have reported experiencing physical abuse. However, just as with the figures above, it’s likely that these numbers are in reality much higher.
When viewed against the blossoming national landscape of addiction, the effect is chilling.
Consider these facts:
- The United States is currently in the midst of an opioid crisis, with overdoses increasing 30% in the brief span of just 14 months between July 2016 and September 2017.
- Every day, about 8,000 people over the age of 12 will try an illicit drug for the first time.
- At least 12% of Americans report having a family member with an opioid addiction.
- Over 3 million teenagers between 13 and 17 abuse alcohol.
- Studies indicate those who begin drinking before the age of 15 are at least four times more likely to develop alcoholism.
What We Can Do
We are, perhaps, right now on the verge of a health catastrophe of epic proportions. Yet, there is still hope.
Groundbreaking advancements in treatment led by trauma-focused facilities such as Next Chapter http://www.nextchaptertreatment.com can help to abate the growing tide of addiction. However, what is really needed is greater awareness. We must, as a society, work to de-stigmatize addiction, so that we can not only better assess its impact, but also to encourage those who need help to seek it. We should also increase funding for mental health services, and educate the general public about the connections between trauma and addiction.
This is why National Recovery Month is so important.
So, please help by spreading the word. Share this article, or post information about SAMHSA and National Recovery Month on your social media channels. Remember that together, we can always make a difference.
For more information about Next Chapter, visit nextchaptertreatment.com or call 561-563-8407 today.