As a recovering journalist, publisher, observer, and commentator, I am struck by the enormity of current developments in the world of addiction.
We can all agree that chemical and behavioral addictions can no longer be swept under the rug. We are now more aware of the elephant in the room. The good news is that the stigma of addiction is slowly but surely lifting.
Like the insurance ad says, “We know a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two.”
We come to the end of a tumultuous year with a host of critical issues to contemplate.
Most people have come to understand that addiction is a disease—a serious illness that not only befalls 20.1 million people in the US (SAMHSA, 2016), but directly affects millions of families and extended families.
We have also come to understand that trauma—most often unresolved childhood trauma—is the underlying cause of adults using substances or behaviors (or both) to seek relief from emotional and/or physical pain. Once we consider the societal causes of addiction, we can better understand where Canadian physician and author Gabor Maté is coming from when he says, “Don’t ask the question ‘why the addiction,’ but ‘why the pain?’” (Shallow, 2014).
There have certainly been shifting views, attitudes, and beliefs as well.
While most might argue that Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and its descendants remain the most effective way to achieve long-lasting sobriety, we have come to accept that AA is not the only way forward. A few short years ago, it was sacrilegious to suggest that drugs might be part of addiction treatment, whereas today more and more professionals recognize that medication-assisted therapy often needs to be a critical component of integrative treatment.
In October 2018, Congress passed a series of bills to confront the nation’s opioid epidemic—a crisis that threatens communities from coast to coast (Itkowitz, 2018). Lawmakers describe the legislation as “. . . a big breakthrough that will boost access to addiction treatment and many other interventions to mitigate the current epidemic, from law enforcement efforts against illicit drugs to combatting over prescription of opioids” (Lopez, 2018). This is a massive undertaking that needs to be supported by ongoing research, education, and prevention.
With ten states and Washington, DC now legalizing marijuana for recreational use and thirty-three states legalizing medical marijuana (Berke, 2018), it is just matter of time before the entire country is marijuana friendly like our neighbors to the north. There is just too much money at stake. While some of the population will likely not suffer any serious negative consequences from cannabis use, we can be sure that a significant number of vulnerable young brains will be scrambled in the mix.
While the airwaves rightly draw constant attention to the opioid epidemic, we tend to forget that alcohol is the most commonly abused substance in the US (NIDA, 2015). Alcoholism affects people from all walks of life and continues to be one of the nation’s most preventable causes of death, ranking third behind tobacco and a poor diet/sedentary lifestyle (NIAAA, 2018). Approximately 88,000 people die from alcohol-related deaths each year, according to 2018 statistics from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).
Meanwhile, the addiction treatment industry continues to grow amid constant flux and questioning of treatment outcomes. Integrative approaches are au courant and intensive outpatient programs show more promise. Thankfully, bad actors in the industry are being exposed and providers are adopting better ethical standards. These are challenging times for the treatment industry as a whole and winds of change are in the air.
Perhaps the best news of all is in the burgeoning recovery movement, which has grown into a sizable army of folks in recovery banding together via social media, online publications, biographies, blogs, film festivals, walks, sober cafes, sober coaching, and more.
We are definitely out of the closet and that is a good thing.
Berke, J. (2018). Here’s where you can legally consume marijuana in the US in 2018. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/where-can-you-can-legally-
Itkowitz, C. (2018). Senate easily passes sweeping opioids legislation, sending to President Trump. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2018/10/03/senate-is-poised-send-sweeping-opioids-legislation-president-trump/?utm_term=.5a6cece70984
Lopez, G. (2018). Congress is on the verge of a bipartisan opioid package, but
experts have big concerns. Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/9/12/17847358/ enate-opioid-crisis-response-act
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). (2018). Alcohol facts and statistics. Retrieved from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-facts-and-statistics
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). (2015). Nationwide trends: Drug facts. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/nationwide-trends
Shallow, P. (2014). #14Days: A cry for compassion in treating addiction. Retrieved from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/14-days-compassion-addiction-recovery-gabor-mate-
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). (2017). Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Retrieved from https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-FFR1-2016/NSDUH-FFR1-2016.pdf