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Is Addiction America’s Most Pressing Health Problem?

Glass of alcohol next to pack of pills against black background

Glass of alcohol next to pack of pills against black background

US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy recently called out substance abuse as one of the biggest public health issues in America today.

Is it true that addiction is America’s most pressing health problem?

Well, when you look at the stats, it’s hard to disagree with Dr. Murthy.

Substance Abuse is Off the Charts

Most people drink alcohol occasionally, but an alarmingly large portion of the population goes overboard with alcohol quite frequently.

In November, the Department of Health and Human Services published a report titled “Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health.” It found that approximately 67 million Americans had engaged in binge drinking in the past month, and 48 million Americans misused prescription medications over that same period.

Part of the problem is that a lot of children, especially those who live in poverty, have early access to psychoactive substances. Another finding from the report: someone who has their first drink at 15 years old is four times more likely to abuse alcohol later in life than someone who has their first drink at 20 years old.

“Although substance misuse problems and use disorders may occur at any age, adolescence and young adulthood are particularly critical at-risk periods,” Dr. Murthy said in a press release for the report. “Preventing or even simply delaying young people from trying substances is important to reducing the likelihood of a use disorder later in life.”

Substance Abuse is Incredibly Dangerous

The widespread nature of substance abuse is a problem, but even if it only affected a few people, it’s worth noting that addiction does an enormous amount of damage to an individual.

If you drink too much, it can give you all kinds of health problems, including cancer, and eventually kill you. Drink more than a dozen shots or so, and you won’t even have to wait for cancer to get you – alcohol can end your life in a single night. And if you abuse prescription opioids, all it takes is one particularly strong dose to shut down your lungs and kill you.

2,200 Americans die from alcohol poisoning every year. 14,000 Americans die from prescription opioid overdoses every year.

Punishment is Not the Answer

Users of illicit substances are sent to prison as a punishment, and they don’t get the resources they need to prevent a relapse when they’re put back on the street. As a society, we need to recognize that addiction is a health issue, not a crime issue.

“It’s time to change how we view addiction,” said Dr. Murthy. “Not as a moral failing but as a chronic illness that must be treated with skill, urgency and compassion. The way we address this crisis is a test for America… We have the opportunity to transform lives and strengthen communities by addressing our country’s addiction crisis. There could not be a more important time for us to act.”

If you have any questions about addiction treatment, feel free to contact us and ask.