Surgeon General: Addiction is a Disease, not a Choice

Surgeon General: Addiction is a Disease, not a Choice

The first-ever Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health was published yesterday. A landmark report, a collaborative effort between the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the Office of the Surgeon General,  it focuses on substance misuse and how individuals can use that knowledge to address substance misuse and related consequences.

Nearly 21 million people in America have a substance use disorder involving alcohol or drugs. That number is staggering when considering that it is comparable to the number of Americans with diabetes and higher than those Americans suffering from all cancers combined. And yet, even with the widespread nature of substance use disorder, on 1 in 10 receives treatment.

While we can place a value on the societal cost of alcohol and drug use and abuse (over $440 billion dollars), it's the human cost that is harder to calculate but by every measure significantly more damaging.  Crime, abuse, neglect, depression, suicide-effecting our families, neighborhoods, and communities. Compounding this with the fact that over 40% of people suffering from substance abuse disorder also have a mental health condition and yet fewer than half receive treatment for either.

The report points out the harsh reality that few other medical conditions are looked upon with same shame and misunderstandings as substance abuse. We have viewed addiction as a moral weakness, not the chronic brain disease that it is.

While presenting sobering statistics, the Surgeon General also presents optimism. He suggests that now is a time of opportunity and hope. Through continued medical advances, education and compassion, the goal of better serving this gravely underserved disorder is within our grasp.

SAMHSA is a public health agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  Its mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on American communities. Learn more about their services, mission and what you can do to help by clicking here. Read the full Surgeon General's report here.


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