According to the US Surgeon General in his latest report, there are over 20 million Americans suffering from alcohol and drug abuse. That is a larger number than those who have cancer in this country. Alcohol- and drug-use disorder is a tremendous health challenge and requires attention now.

Alert: Substance Abuse Epidemic

US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy had some strong feelings and words on the topic of drug and alcohol addiction. He expressed that the word “addiction” carries such stigma that many people avoid getting treatment. There are many people misusing substances and it’s taking a toll.
Murthy reported that 90 percent of those abusing illicit and prescription drugs, as well as alcohol, are not getting treatment. If the figure of those suffering from substance use disorder is over 20 million, that means at least 18 million American are not getting help.
The US Surgeon General believes “it’s time to change how we view addiction.”

The Toll It Takes

Drug and alcohol abuse, for the body of the user, ages exponentially. All major organs become affected: brain, stomach, liver, skin… Life perception becomes distorted. Depression may set in (or get deeper.) Relationships disintegrate; that includes boss, coworkers, spouse, children, parents, friends, and the list goes on.
Financially, the addiction can become a burden, too. Health issues or accidents arising from the addiction increase medical costs. Day-to-day living becomes more consumed by using the substance than just about anything else. We know people experiencing this. Maybe we even do.
The stigma of addiction needs to be removed. In order for people to seek treatment, they have to feel they will not be shamed by reaching out for help.

Is Our Youth at Greatest Risk?

Murthy believes our youth are at greatest risk of succumbing to substance abuse disorder. Adolescence and young adulthood are precarious times, emotional and sometimes fragile. Between the ages of 12 and 22, the risk of becoming addicted is substantial.
Anyone at any age can develop a misuse of substances, but our younger set tends to be more vulnerable. For one, their brains are not fully developed. Decision-making will not always be at its optimum.
The Surgeon General emphasized that if we prevent our youth from experimenting at a young age, it reduces the likelihood of future substance-use disorder.

Treatment in the Near Future

Already there have been some recent changes to government-overseen treatment policy. The US Department of Health and Human Services has expanded training to physician assistants and nurse practitioners. They will soon be able to prescribe buprenorphine, a treatment for opioid addiction.
Opioid addiction is rampant and the numbers continue to grow. More help is on the way…
What Murthy stated about altering the perspective of addiction is a powerful first step. It needs to be moved from a moral realm into a health-social-emotional based arena. He suggests it’s a chronic condition that requires immediate medical and cognitive treatment—as well as compassion.