Name: Alexandra Silva
From: Cumberland , Rhode Island
The Epidemic of Addiction
The Epidemic of Addiction
By: Alexandra Silva
Most people can think of someone they have known that suffers from an addiction. Addiction is a debilitating and lifelong disorder that destroys the life of anyone who crosses its path. Addiction is no longer just a personal issue; it is quickly becoming a national health crisis. In 2017 alone, almost 20 million Americans over the age of 12 years old struggled with a substance use disorder. Addiction costs our nation over $740 billion per year in healthcare expenses, crime-related costs and reduced employee productivity (American Addiction Centers). Addiction is a silent epidemic sweeping across our nation and hurting those that we love.
I believe that our nation is facing an addiction crisis for many reasons. Firstly, the stress level for the average American has increased drastically. In May 2020, the Harris Poll conducted by the American Psychological Association found that on a scale of 1-10 for measuring stress levels (1 being the no stress and 10 being extreme stress), Americans scored an average of 5.4. For 70 percent of Americans, the economy and work were significant sources of stress. Most middle- and lower-class workers suffer from anxiety related to job security and income. Especially now that unemployment is at an all-time high, many Americans are turning to drugs and alcohol to cope with their anxiety, fear and stress. The pressure our culture places on individuals to have work consume most of their lives as well as raising job and income insecurity cause Americans to turn to easily accessible ways to cope such as drugs and alcohol which starts the dangerous spiral of addiction. In order to combat the rising stress levels in our society, we need to encourage people to seek help, develop healthy coping mechanisms and improve overall work-life balance. This would take a massive change on a national and cultural scale, but by beginning to teach individuals healthy coping mechanisms and removing the stigma around seeking therapy we can take steps in the right direction.
Secondly, there are competing messages in our society that it is “cool” to do drugs and drink but shameful to seek help if you abuse these same substances. These messages are strongest with teenagers and young adults who are the most susceptible to fall victim to an addiction. These teens and young adults start doing drugs or abusing alcohol to “fit in” with a social group, but once they realize they are addicted they are shamed and ostracized for seeking help. Our society treats addicts as criminals and labels them with a stigma that can stay with them for the rest of their lives. This stigma can prevent addicts from seeking help or finding resources to better themselves causing them to again fall into the cycle of addiction. Our society needs to stop the negative stigma surrounding addiction and seek to help individuals suffering to better themselves and support them in their recovery. Addicts are not criminals; they are individuals in pain suffering from a mental disorder and should not be treated any differently than someone seeking support for any other type of illness or health problem.
Lastly, the opioid epidemic of the last two decades has been caused by a drastic increase in overprescribing of pain medication by physicians. The Center for Disease control has found that individuals who are addicted to pain killers are 40 times for likely to abuse heroin. A study by the Center for Complementary and Integrative Health estimated that 25.3 million Americans suffer from chronic pain and that almost 40 million individuals suffer from severe levels of pain. Doctors often overprescribe opioid based pain medication for chronic pain which causes individuals to become reliant on these medications to manage their pain and starts the cycle of addition. Prescribers need to be more aware of how addictive these medications are and seek to find other ways to help their patients manage pain.
Addiction has high costs for individuals as well as society as a whole. Due to addiction being closely correlated with crime, society ends up footing the bill for people who become incarcerated due to addiction. Additionally, most addicts find it difficult to pay for health insurance or maintain a job that provides health insurance meaning that society must also pay for any medical needs that the addict faces. Most addicts have some form of health problems due to their drug and alcohol abuse and will need intervention at some point, which society ends up paying for. Risk factors for addiction include poverty, poor education, unsafe environments, parental substance abuse and mental illness. Funding programs to support children and teens who are high risk for addiction (such as the Boys and Girls Club or afterschool programs) can help these high-risk individuals find healthy outlets to cope with their emotions and also educate them on the dangers of drug use. Additionally, funding more programs focused on rehabilitation and treatment instead of punishment and criminalization can empower those who already suffer from addiction to reach their goals and live personally fulfilling and healthy lives.
As a society, we need to remove the stigma from addiction and support those who suffer from it. We need to encourage treatment instead of criminalization and treat addiction like we would any other mental disorder. We must educate the next generation on how to cope with their emotions in a healthy way, the harmful impact of drugs, how to remain safe if they are going to use drugs and how to seek help if they do need it. As parents, we need to teach our children that doing drugs is not “cool”, and that they will not be judged or punished for coming to us if they have questions or are suffering. We need to create a safe space to discuss drug and alcohol abuse without any negative stigmas. Changes on a national scale need to be made as well. Eliminating the for-profit healthcare system or establishing a public health care option to make mental and physical healthcare more affordable will help individuals access the resources they need to start or maintain their recovery. As a society, we need to improve work-life balance to reduce the high stress levels that causes many people to abuse drugs and alcohol. Many other countries, such as New Zealand, have implemented a four-day work which has been shown to increase worker productivity as well as reducing stress. These changes may take time, but I believe that they are necessary to prevent further spread of the epidemic of addiction.
I am very lucky that I was able to seek help for my addiction and reform my life. With the support of therapists and being able to attend a treatment program, I was able to find meaning and value in myself, and now I am pursuing my degree in social work so I can help others suffering like I did. My recovery is proof that addicts are not criminals or “bad” people; we are people in pain coping in the only way we know how to. We are survivors and fighters and I am so grateful that I have had the opportunity to recover and use my experience to help others see the light in the darkness of addiction. I hope as a future social worker and advocate for those with mental illness and addiction that I can fight the stigma addicts face and make a difference on an individual and societal level.
“Addiction Statistics: Drug & Substance Abuse Statistics.” Edited by Scott Thomas, American Addiction Centers, American Addiction Centers , 19 May 2020, americanaddictioncenters.org/rehab-guide/addiction-statistics.
“NIH Analysis Shows Americans Are In Pain.” National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 11 Aug. 2015, www.nccih.nih.gov/news/press-releases/nih-analysis-shows-americans-are-in-pain.
“Stress in the Time of COVID-19.” American Psychological Association, May 2020, pp. 1–2.
“Today’s Heroin Epidemic Infographics.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 7 July 2015, www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/heroin/infographic.html.
Toh, Michelle. “New Zealand PM Ardern Floats ‘Four-Day Week’ as a Way to Help the Economy.” CNN, Cable News Network, 21 May 2020, www.cnn.com/2020/05/21/business/new-zealand-4-day-week-hnk-intl-scli/index.html.