Facing Addiction in America
In 2016, Former Surgeon General, Vivek H. Murthy, M.D., M.B.A released his landmark study Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health, which contains the latest scientific information regarding the disease of addiction. Early on in the report, he points out how science has fundamentally changed our understanding:
“Scientific breakthroughs have revolutionized the understanding of substance use disorders. For example, severe substance use disorders, commonly called addictions, were once viewed largely as a moral failing or character flaw, but are now understood to be chronic illnesses characterized by clinically significant impairments in health, social function, and voluntary control over substance use. Although the mechanisms may be different, addiction has many features in common with disorders such as diabetes, asthma, and hypertension. All of these disorders are chronic, subject to relapse, and influenced by genetic, developmental, behavioral, social, and environmental factors.”
As referenced in the Surgeon General’s report, addiction is a brain disease, not a sign of human weakness or inherent immorality. All highly addictive drugs, e.g. alcohol, cocaine and opiates, affect the reward system and pleasure center in every human brain. Areas of the brain responsible for judgement and decision making are also negatively impacted. Youth are particularly at risk as the areas of the brain responsible for decision-making, impulse control and moderating behavior have not fully developed until the mid-20’s.
Not everyone who is exposed to drugs responds the same way (as with all chronic illnesses), some are more susceptible than others. The biggest risk factor for developing an addiction is having a genetic predisposition. Addiction tends to run in families.
Other risk factors include:
- a history of trauma in childhood
- traumatic brain injury
- presence of a mental health disorder
- ages of first use – the earlier youth begin misusing substances, the more at risk of developing an addiction.
Fortunately, scientific evidence proves that treatment is effective and when paired with lifestyle changes and ongoing support, people with the disease can recover and live healthy productive lives.
Anyone Can Become Addicted to Drugs – The National Institute on Drug Abuse provides this brief overview of addiction as an equal opportunity disease.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) has released a new report titled, Trends in Substance Use Disorders Among Adults Aged 18 or Older. The report, based on data from the annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health, highlights the number of American adults with substance use disorders in the past year and trends in substance use disorders between 2002 and 2014.