The American Addiction Crisis
The American Addiction Crisis
Addiction is a disease that has plagued humanity since the earliest days of civilization. In recent years, the addiction crisis has become noticeably more prevalent in the form of addiction related deaths, incarcerations, and admissions to treatment facilities. A continuing lack of proper education on the dangers of addiction compounded by poor access to mental health treatment and awareness has fueled this crisis. This has created a dangerous situation in which lives are lost and families are torn apart. However, this pain and destruction can be avoided with increased awareness programs and proper access to mental health and addiction care, as well as a change in the outlook on addicts in society.
The number of people battling addiction has increased rapidly over the last decade. However, the most notable spike in those with addictions can be seen following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control, substance overdose deaths have skyrocketed, with more than 81,000 dead in the 12-month period between July 2019 and July 2020. This can be attributed to the mental health toll that the stress of the pandemic has taken on many Americans, which has caused them to seek an escape in the form of addictive substances. The challenges presented during the COVID-19 pandemic have highlighted the preexisting weaknesses in the medical infrastructure responsible for preventing and treating addiction. The most notable of these weaknesses is a lack of education and proper training for clinicians on how to treat substance use disorder (SUD). Approximately 20 million Americans suffer from SUD and the unacceptably low number of addiction specialists makes getting treatment incredibly difficult. The consequences of a lack of treatment are dire not only for those suffering from addiction but also for their families.
Addiction often results in behaviors or circumstances that separate children from parents, estrange daughters from their loved ones, and cause marriages to crumble. Unfortunately, I know this reality all too well. As the child of two addicts much of my young life was filled with strife, abuse, and confusion. My father was an alcoholic and drug addict who often became verbally and physically abusive when under the influence, my mother took the brunt of this trauma, often as I watched as a fearful and confused child. Because of the post traumatic stress following the domestic abuse and divorce with my now estranged father, my mother turned to coping with substances. She began to fall further into alcohol and substance abuse, slowly losing her ability to take care of her children and herself. This forced my sister and I to move in with my grandparents while my mother battled her addiction for eight years. This near-decade was filled with relapses and recoveries, each time building up our hopes and crushing them yet again. Eventually, she recovered from her addiction and she was able to form a relationship with her children again, but not before missing nearly the entirety of our formative years. I moved into my mother’s home in the ninth grade only to realize that my mother and I had become near strangers, now in my senior year we have finally re-developed that relationship but not without a great deal of work and tears. As for my father, I am unsure of his recovery status, as I have not been in contact with him for nearly ten years; I have had to accept this loss as an unfortunate consequence of addiction. As a young teen I vowed to break this cycle and avoid this tragedy with my own children not only through my own actions but also by taking action to raise awareness on the dangers of addiction.
The addiction crisis can be remedied with concerted and collaborative efforts to raise awareness on the true nature of addiction in addition to better training healthcare and mental health professionals on how to properly treat addiction. The pathway to recovery starts with the individual, an addict will not fully enter remission until they have made the decision that they want to get sober, no one else can make that decision for them. Thus, the pathway to remedy this crisis begins with the individual by raising awareness, funding, and providing greater access to substance abuse centered mental healthcare in order to offer addicts looking to recover a simple and affordable pathway to sobriety. Addiction prevention is the following step in this process, however the strategy must change, demonizing drugs and alcohol in schools only makes these dangerous substances more alluring to young and rebellious children. Instead, schools should focus on teaching the younger population how to emotionally regulate and self-soothe without the help of addictive substances. Addiction is a mental health issue, not an inherent substance issue and it should be treated as such. On a societal level, we must change the perspective on addicts and addiction as a disease rather than an inherent moral weakness or a criminal issue. Far too often addicts are demonized as criminals or immoral people; the shame associated with addiction makes it incredibly difficult for addicts to take the first step by admitting they have an addiction. This places an incredible halt on the recovery of addicts, taking away precious time from the freedom of sobriety and increasing the risk of death as a result of overdose. A combination of this increased support on an individual and societal level can greatly lower the rates of those suffering from substance abuse disorder and create a pathway to a healthier society.
Humans have suffered from addictions since the dawn of time, ruining relationships and ending lives. However, this does not mean society is destined to remain in it’s dangerous patterns, a change is possible through increased access to mental health care and increased addiction awareness programs.
10, Paul H. Earley Feb., et al. “America’s Addiction Crisis, Compounded by Covid-19, Requires Action.” STAT, 10 Feb. 2021, www.statnews.com/2021/02/10/addiction-crisis-covid-19-requires-action/.
“Products – Vital Statistics Rapid Release – Provisional Drug Overdose Data.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 17 Feb. 2021, www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/drug-overdose-data.htm.