By | January 19, 2017

Addiction in America has become an epidemic. In a new Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health, reports the JAMA Network, the facts surrounding addiction as a biological disease were reiterated. Unfortunately, many people continue to associate addiction with fallacies of personality or lifestyle. Addiction kills, and for those suffering from co-occurring, serious mental health problems, the risk of death or serious bodily harm is heightened.

As a health and human services (HHS) provider, the report’s findings will help your organization identify and emphasize the importance of prevention and treatment. Since the U.S. is in a state of power transition, now is the opportune time to think about how your program could use the report to help more people with behavioral health and addiction problems.


About the Report

What Did the Report Say About Those Suffering?

“Character flaws” have become a mainstream component in the opioid epidemic discussion, but these characteristics are not indicative of any addiction, asserts the U.S. surgeon general, reports NBC News. Moreover, only 10 percent of those suffering from addiction receives treatment, reflecting the added burdens placed on addiction suffering by stereotyping and stigma.

“Too many in our country have viewed addiction as a moral failing. This unfortunate stigma has created an added burden of shame that has made people with substance use disorders less likely to come forward and seek help.”                               

–Dr. Vivek Murthy


What About the Report’s Timing?

The document is the first time a surgeon general has addressed addiction, drugs and alcohol in more than 50 years. When a similar report was released in 1964, it helped shape how the modern world viewed the dangers of smoking tobacco. Whole cultures change to reflect the new information. At the 1964 report release, 42 percent of Americans smoked. By 2014, the most recent year tobacco use prevalence was analyzed, the statistic had dropped to 18 percent, explains Harvard Health Publications.

The goal of the new report and its timing is simple: make people in America see the nation’s top physician explain why addiction is so deadly and consequential for the health of children, youth and families. Of the most pressing statistics, the following put a spotlight on addiction:

  • 8 million people suffer from substance abuse.
  • More than 50,000 people died from overdoses involving opioids, alcohol or other drugs.
  • More people die from overdose than car accidents.
  • Every day, 78 people die from an opioid overdose.


What Does the Report Recommend?

The report’s primary goal establishes a means of telling fact from fiction spewed across the cable TV and the media. TV shows involving interventions, increased publications on addiction treatment and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) have become glamorized. However, this only creates more confusion among the masses, leaving even more people struggling with feelings of being ostracized and labeled as addicts, not people. Fortunately, these problems can be overcome through a few actions.

1. Prevention Must Be a Bigger Focus.

Reducing the number of people living with addiction begins with prevention. Whole communities must come together to prevent children and youth from being surrounded by substances. With relation to alcoholism, teens and children who started drinking before age 15 are 400-percent likelier to become addicted later in life. Programs must target youth by ensuring the stigma of substance abuse does not label a specific type of student. Instead, it should focus on the fact that every student and child is at risk. The only solution is to stop them from entering the cycle.

2. TV Addiction Is Not a Reflection of Truth.

Numerous shows have been created to recognize how families and loved ones react to addiction. Performing interventions and encouraging those with addictions to seek treatment is an essential step toward recovery. However, TV drama is just drama, and episodes may not recognize the potentially deadly consequences of continued drug or alcohol use.

Moreover, an ill-planned intervention can heighten resistance to treatment and lower self-esteem of the person with an addiction. This only serves to reinforce addiction, not encourage treatment. In fact, most people with substance abuse issues also suffer from at least one other co-occurring mental health illness, reports the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Therefore, the symptoms of these other conditions must also be taken into account before attempting an intervention.

3. Use the ACA to Stimulate Treatment.

Under the essential health benefits of the ACA and the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008, drug rehabilitation is covered. Today, more than 20 million Americans have signed up for coverage, and for those with low incomes, subsidies or Medicaid expansion may help provide this coverage. Ultimately, the ACA can eliminate much of the financial burden felt by families and those suffering from addition when considering treatment.

The ACA was destined to provide coverage to millions who were unable to get affordable health coverage. Now, the assumption on covering addiction treatment focuses on choice, not biological factors. In other words, people are combining politics with fact, reinforcing the notion of addiction being a choice, so treatment coverage is not necessary. However, the body and mind physically adapt to require drugs or alcohol to survive. Suddenly stopping this “dosage of substances” could even be deadly. Clearly, society must rethink what it means to be ill.

If a person was suffering from lung cancer, people would not think twice about the need for treatment. More importantly, the need for treatment is not dismissed because of past tobacco use. Instead, the demand for treatment remains the same. The same concept must be built into treatment for addiction.

If only 10 percent of people with lung cancer received treatment, more people would die. Since only 10 percent of people with addiction get treatment, more people are dying.


The Big Picture

Critics of the report argue it does not go far enough in recognizing the importance of seeking out new treatments and therapies. However, its primary focus is to raise awareness and eliminate stigma. Use the report’s findings to re-evaluate your existing prevention and treatment programs. Be open to new treatments, but always remember treatments are not a one-size-fits-all solution. Treatment must be tailored to the needs of the individual, and you must not let the stigma of society contaminate your work.

Stop hoping those with addictions will seek out HHS providers and get treatment. Make your presence heard, and explain what services you offer. More than anything else, spread this message:


It’s harsh, but it is necessary.

Jason Vanover

Working in health care since 2005, Jason's body of experience encompasses dozens of care settings, including Senior care, psychiatric facilities, nonprofit health service centers, group homes for those with developmental disabilities and beyond. Jason understands the need to tailor his skills to each setting to encourage the best treatment outcomes and promote an inclusive, healing environment.

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