We talk a lot about the opioid epidemic and the growing benzo epidemic, but we can’t ignore the truth. Addiction itself, regardless of the substance involved, is spreading at a frightening rate. It has been quite some time since we published our article on addiction demographics and statistics. Since then, the problem has not gotten better. It has gotten worse. It’s spreading across all class lines. This is not a disease given to racial profiling or stereotyping of any kind. This is a problem that affects all of us. We just never know when a loved one might fall prey to the growing epidemic of addiction in America.
There are about 22.7 million people suffering from addiction in America today. As of 2015, the United States population clocked in at about 318.9 million. Those who like to view people only as statistics might tell you that 7.1% is not too bad. Such people, however, should note that only about 2.5 million (11%) of those suffering addiction in America have received treatment. That leaves approximately 20.2 million addicts and alcoholics who are still suffering from untreated substance abuse disorders. The human impact of reaching such a goal would be remarkable. The statistical impact, however, might leave something to be desired.
This is why we must all do what we can to better these numbers. Addiction in America is spreading like wildfire, and we cannot turn a blind eye to the suffering of others. In our youth, we were taught that the American spirit was the embodiment of unity, fellowship, and opportunity for all. It is time to begin honoring that spirit by embracing the ideals of education and awareness. Below, we’ll discuss some of the changes that need to be made in order to quell the rise of addiction in America. We’ll also discuss what Amethyst Recovery is doing, and how you might be able to help.
Educating Addicts and Their Families
Effective treatment programs are primarily educational. Without an educational foundation, treatment programs would basically be retreats that we attend to stop using for a while. Addicts must learn how their use has affected their lives. Their families must also learn the dangers of enabling. For this to be successful, both parties must understand more about how addiction works. There are two components to this education, each of them equally important.
The first component is therapy. On the surface, it doesn’t seem as if we should need to learn how addiction has impacted our personal lives. After all, we were there. We lived it. What could we possibly learn? You’d be surprised, however, at how much we have failed to notice. Perhaps there are things we have repressed. Or perhaps there are things that we have noticed, but saying them out loud in front of a counselor or therapy group gives them a new sense of gravity. They say that the part of our character which matters most is the way we act when nobody’s watching. In therapy, we get a chance to reveal that part of our character to a room of fellow addicts. If we do not like the things we hear ourselves saying, it is time for a change.
Friends and family members need a bit of education in this regard as well. When family members share in support groups such as Al-Anon, Nar-Anon or our Facebook group for parents, they are able to see how they have hurt themselves and their addicted loved one by enabling their self-destructive behaviors. More importantly, others with a history of enabling are able to tell them how they overcame their histories. Reducing the number of enablers in the world could help reduce the number of addicts. Substance abusers will hit rock bottom much more quickly. This will not solve addiction in America on its own, but it certainly will not hurt.
The second component of education is primarily scientific. Drugs and alcohol affect the mind and body in ways that can be imperceptible to us while we are under the influence. Both substance abusers and their loved ones must understand the stakes we face when we allow addiction to continue unabated. We must understand that this disease is largely neurological, and it requires constant care if we are to keep it in remission. There is a cure, of sorts, in that many retain lifelong sobriety after discovering the benefits of recovery. But many falter. Many suffer chronic relapse. Vigilance is key to fighting addiction in America. If we are to maintain this vigilance, we must know more about our enemy. This understanding can only be attained through scientific education and the continued efforts of well-funded addiction researchers.
Increasing Public Awareness
It is not enough for addicts and their loved ones alone to be educated on the dangers of substance abuse. With addiction in America spreading at a rate faster than it can be treated, more people need to be aware that these dangers have the potential to affect them. But it is not just the potential victims who must be made aware. Policies need to be put into place that will help our nation to fight the scourge before it becomes unstoppable.
Last year, a group called Facing Addiction organized the UNITE to Face Addiction Rally. It was a day of music and discourse aimed at the spread of overdose awareness. The day after the rally, the message was brought to DC politicians in hopes of influencing policies to save addicts. This year, Facing Addiction will be attending both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions. They hope to demonstrate that addiction is a bipartisan issue. We must all do our part to save addicts in need.
There are a few things that public awareness might accomplish. First of all, we need to advocate for treatment instead of prison for those who need it. Many addicts and alcoholics who wind up behind bars are not given the recovery tools they need to get better. They return to the world without the necessary education, and often wind up back in the system within a short time. If we do nothing to stop this issue and help those in need, we may as well outfit prisons with revolving doors.
But not all addicts and alcoholics find themselves in legal trouble. Some simply go untreated because they cannot afford medical care. Sure, we can do our part to help them navigate their insurance programs. But not all insurance programs are helpful. Some do not cover more than thirty days of treatment. Until better care is provided to those in need of long-term treatment, we cannot expect them to learn much about long-term sobriety. Perhaps a smaller treatment center such as Amethyst is more affordable to many people, but some addicts can barely afford the cost of living. Ohio recently put out an executive order to help with this, but they are only one state out of fifty. Unless more policy-makers are made aware of the threat posed by addiction in America, we cannot expect widespread reform. This is why public awareness is so vital to the cause.
How You Can Fight Addiction in America
Amethyst has done our part to help where we can. We work to educate addicts and their families in many ways. These articles are among them. We also spread awareness through our Facebook page, and groups such as A Mother’s Hope and Heroin Support for You. But those who are familiar with our work tend to already know that addiction in America is a deadly threat. This is why we are currently working on a plan to make our work more visible. Our hope is to reach more people and let others know that addiction in America has become an epidemic. In doing so, perhaps more people will seek help.
We are also aware that good treatment centers can be difficult to find. This is why we offer a referral program for those who cannot seek treatment at our own facilities. We also work with Operation HOPE in Maine, a program that helps addicts seek treatment in lieu of jail. The only stipulation is that they must come forth and hand over their drugs to the police in order to qualify. Those willing to do so are generally ready to make great strides toward their recovery. Between Operation HOPE and our referral program, we endeavor to bring treatment to as many addicts as possible. With so many millions left untreated, we believe that every such effort is essential.
There are things that you can do as well. Lobby your senators and other political representatives, and ask them to focus more on helping addicts in need. Help spread awareness through social media platforms. If you know someone who might benefit from scientific education related to addiction, guide them in the right direction. And if you or someone you know is suffering from addiction, then by all means contact us immediately. With over 20 million people suffering from addiction in America, this fight needs as many soldiers as it can get.
Addiction in America will not go away overnight. Lowering its numbers will be a long and arduous task. The more people we have working toward the promotion of education and awareness, the better. If this is an issue that has affected you, we encourage you to seek out others like yourself. Share your stories with them, and listen to theirs in return. With the understanding we gain from others, we can develop methods of working toward a solution. If we are certain of one thing, it’s that we cannot allow addiction in America to continue unabated. Every day that this epidemic continues, lives are lost. It’s time to fight for survival.