While most Americans understand that drug and alcohol addiction is a concerning problem, few understand the true width and breadth of this problem. Few people really get that one in ten Americans are currently addicted to drugs and alcohol, a number that puts us at twenty-three million addicted people living in the U.S. according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Even with over twenty-three million people addicted, only about twenty to twenty-five percent of them ever get the help they need. In fact, help in the form of addiction treatment has been so few and far between that Americans struggle with a “Treatment Gap.” This means that tens of millions of Americans are addicted yet the vast majority never see the inside of a treatment center to get clean from their addictions. Either addicted persons do not want to get help, are not convinced to get help, addicts can’t afford help, or addicts die before they have the chance to get help.
The substance abuse crisis of the 21st century is an epidemic for the U.S. Some of the statistics are far beyond what most would expect:
This is only a brief glimpse at just how serious our drug problem really is. This problem can and will get a lot worse if we do not take fast action to remedy it. This is a problem that serves to only create greater risk and greater danger for people, especially when one considers the constant, steady worsening of the problem year after year.
When we ask, “How did America become so addicted?” we need to understand that this is a multifaceted problem. There was no, “one thing” that occurred that put our country into the addiction epidemic that we are in now. A big player in all this was the rampant increase in opioid prescription drug abuse that the country faced and still faces today. Pharmaceutical companies more than tripled the production and distribution of opioid drugs into the hands of the American people between 1999 and 2005, and that set off a chain reaction of opioid abuse problems.
But other events took place that created other problems. Marijuana has become far more accepted as its legalization progresses. Marijuana is a gateway drug and can get people hooked on other, more dangerous substances further down the road. Alcohol abuse continues to be allowed and in some ways encouraged, especially on college campuses. Heroin abuse skyrocketed as more Americans became addicted to opioid pharmaceuticals. Cocaine abuse made a comeback as crack cocaine became more popular in the late 1990s and early 2000s. There are a lot of factors that contributed to our current substance abuse epidemic.
We know our past, and we can know our future. We can know our future because we can make efforts to curb substance abuse in our communities and in our states. Prevention and rehabilitation are and always have been the keys to our freedom from addiction. We can break free from the habits of substance abuse, even if it takes a great deal of work to do so.