For a Majority of Americans, Addiction is Personal
The good folks at the Kaiser Family Foundation (now known simply as KFF) found that addiction is personal for 66% of American adults. That is to say, two out of every three U.S. citizens reported having a personal or familial experience with alcohol or drug addiction. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they themselves are suffering from some kind of Substance Use Disorder (SUD), mind you. It only means that someone in their life is so affected. More often than not, said someone is family, friend, neighbor or colleague. Sometimes it’s all of the above.
How do we know? Because crackerjack Axios reporter Sabrina Moreno delivered the news just last week. How do we feel about it? Well, like everyone else who cares about the way the world turns, we’re more than a little taken aback.
But not entirely surprised. No, we weren’t naive enough to believe the end of Covid would bring about an end to addiction. But we did hope the lifting of pandemic protocols would at least help lessen the use and abuse rate. The KFF report shows that doesn’t seem to be the case. Not as of July 2023 anyway.
When Addiction Hits Home
Addiction rates were already high and rising. In fact, SAMHSA’s 2021 report found 46.3 million people aged 12 or older in the U.S. met the applicable DSM-5 criteria for having a substance use disorder. That’s about 16.5% of the nation’s population.
With one in every six Americans suffering from substance use disorder it’s no wonder two out of three people say addiction is personal. After all, if one can’t even queue up for groceries without running into someone with addiction issues, what are the chances anyone could be personally isolated from the problem?
Slim to none. Unfortunately, just knowing an addict or alcoholic doesn’t necessarily eliminate the stigma. It doesn’t automatically make one an advocate for more and better addiction treatment either. Heck, just last week we wrote about how a vocal group of small town locals persuaded a treatment provider to cancel plans for a new facility in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. The ostensible reason for the objection? Those residents were “concerned about increased traffic.”
Those so-called “concerns” left the region surrounding state capital Harrisburg without a much-needed full-service recovery center. It also left a county with a near 9% unemployment rate without a good two dozen or so new jobs.
There’s No Question Addiction is Personal
Did the Dauphin County opposition also consider addiction to be personal? Apparently so. But not in a way that was either constructive or empathetic. If anything, those small town naysayers seemed to be attempting to keep addiction from becoming more personal. As if blocking a treatment center would keep addiction from hitting close to their homes.
That’s ridiculous of course. And with 66% of their fellow Americans already experiencing at least secondhand addiction, it’s also impossible.
More that that though, opposing treatment is just plain cruel, especially considering how many Americans are in need of just that. KFF found that “among those who say they or a family member experienced addiction to prescription painkillers, alcohol, or any illegal drug, less than half (46%) report they or their family member got treatment for the addiction.”
If we go by SAMHSA’s 2021 numbers, that means over 21 million Americans never got a chance to right their lives.
And lest those naysayers feel the need to say something about recovery rates, “a 2020 study published by the CDC and the National Institute on Drug Abuse found 3 out of 4 people who experience addiction eventually recover.”
“So that’s huge, you know, 75%,” said Dr. John Kelly, who teaches addiction medicine at Harvard Medical School and is both founder and director of the Recovery Research Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital. “I think it kind of goes against our cultural perception that people never get better.”
Indeed it does. And as the good doctor also told NPR’s Brian Mann, it’s “something to share and be hopeful about.”
What’s the point of all this number-crunching? To show how prevalent addiction and alcoholism is among Americans. Yes, addiction is personal. And it’s likely to get even more personal too. So it’s in everybody’s very best interests to summon a little common sense. If you can manage to add some compassion to the equation, all the better. Because even if you yourself have slipped the substance abuse noose, there’s a good chance someone near and dear to you hasn’t been so lucky. Please don’t say you’re simply willing to walk away without extending a hand.