Today, a friend told me a tragic story about his smart, talented, and beautiful daughter‘s overdose death due to heroin. More and more frequently I am, hearing people – my clients, friends, and colleagues -personal stories about how substance use and addiction has adversely impacted them and their families. This week, our Surgeon General released a new report, “Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health,” which underscores the tremendous scope and cost (emotional and financial) of drug and alcohol abuse in our country.

According to our Surgeon General, for example:

  • Approximately 20.8 million people in this County are currently living with a substance use disorder, which is about the same number as those with diabetes and a higher number than people living with all varieties of cancer.
  • More people take opioids in this country than use tobacco.
  • One in seven individuals in the United States will face substance addiction.
  • One in five people in the United States binge drink.
  • Substance abuse takes a huge financial toll, costing the United States in excess of $42 0 billion per year.

Despite these staggering statistics,and despite the fact these disorders affect us all no matter what our race, ethnicity,income, gender, age, and geography, we do not give substance abuse and addiction the same amount of attention and resources as we do other public health and medical problems. This is probably partially caused by the fact that we have been slow to move away from the incorrect notion that those who abuse drugs and alcohol are somehow weak or character-flawed. In actuality, substance abuse is a chronic disease of the brain, and needs to be treated with the same level of compassion and urgency that we would for any other medical condition. Thankfully, there is a move in that direction, as well as increasing evidence to support some prevention and treatment strategies, even though evidenced-based methodologies are grossly under-implemented in his Country.
This report is a critical read not only for those working in the addition field, but also for all of us working in mental health, as the statistics show that many of our clients lives’, and possibly our own lives, are impacted adversely by addiction.