Disease of Addiction

Addiction changes a person's brain chemistry. It is a disease that has to be treated for a person to recover. Not all people who abuse drugs or alcohol become addicts or alcoholics.1

Quitting Isn't Easy

If addiction had a trademark, it would be the inability to "just stop."  Whether obsessive compulsions or the brain's reward circuit being triggered by a high - quitting is not easy.1

No Band-Aid Solution

There is no fix all solution to the wide range of afflictions that fall under the addiction umbrella, but there is hope in preventative measures. Destigmatizing recovery, mental health awareness, and encouraging open and honest communication can help.

Discrimination is Rampant

People who would not want to work closely with someone who has/had a substance abuse disorder.6
3 out of 10 people think it is impossible to recover from a substance abuse disorder.7
Only 1 out of 10 addicts seek treatment, many cite stigma as a hurdle.8

Official Terms

To combat stigma and make it easier for individuals to obtain treatment, new terminology has emerged for talking about alcoholism and other addictions, like: substance use disorder or alcohol use disorder.

Substance Use Disorders and Incarceration

Not Criminals

Substance abuse, especially alcohol abuse, is commonly reported among individuals convicted of criminal offenses. However, not all people who have a substance abuse disorder commit criminal acts. That is a dangerous and untrue stereotype that adds to the stigma and discrimination against people who are sick. Punishment of addiction is not an effective method of reducing dependence on substances.9

State prisoners with co-occuring substance abuse and mental disorders.10
Of people in prison who have a mental disorder, 74 percent also have a substance use problem.11
People in prison without a mental illness who have a substance use problem.11

On Opioids


The percentage of worldwide opioid consumption that occurs in North America (USA and Canada).2 80 percent of all opioids are used in the USA.3

Number of opioid overdose deaths
in 2015, the highest ever recorded in USA4
Opioids are responsible for
3 out of 5 drug overdose deaths5

Deaths caused by synthetic opioids, like fentanyl, have jumped a shocking 72.2 percent between 2014 and 2015.5

About Alcohol


6.2 percent of adults aged 18 and over had alcohol use disorder in 2015.12

Every year in the USA,
people die from alcohol-related causes.12
people die from harmful alcohol use annually.13

Percent of people who self reported having engaged in binge drinking (aka getting drunk quickly) in the past month.12

1. NIDA. (2016, August 9). Understanding Drug Use and Addiction. Retrieved from drugabuse.gov

1. Snoek, A. How to Recover from a Brain Disease: Is Addiction a Disease, or Is there a Disease-like Stage in Addiction?. Neuroethics, 10(1), 185-194. doi: 10.1007/s12152-017-9312-0

1. Palmer, R. and McGeary, J. (2016), Models of drug addiction: Theories and future applications in prevention and treatment. The Brown University Child and Adolescent Behavior Letter, 32, 1–7. doi: 10.1002/cbl.30122

2. Von Korff, M. R., Franklin, G. (2016). Responding to America’s Iatrogenic Epidemic of Prescription Opioid Addiction and Overdose. Medical Care, 54(5), 426-429. doi: 10.1097/MLR.0000000000000537

3. Fact Sheet. American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians, url: asipp.org

4. CDC. Wide-ranging online data for epidemiologic research (WONDER). Atlanta, GA: CDC, National Center for Health Statistics; 2016. url: wonder.cdc.gov

5. Rudd, R. A., Seth, P., David, F., Scholl, L. (2016). Increases in Drug and Opioid-Involved Overdose Deaths — United States, 2010–2015. MMWR Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 65, 1445–1452. doi: 10.15585/mmwr.mm655051e1

6. Barry, C. L., Mcginty, E. E., Pescosolido, B. A., Goldman, H. H. (2014). Stigma, Discrimination, Treatment Effectiveness, and Policy. Psychiatric Services, 65(10), 1269-1272. doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.201400140

7. Foushee, H. R., Simpson, C. A., Tucker, J. A. (2008). Public Perceptions of Substance Abuse and How Problems Are Resolved. Southern Medical Journal, 101(8), 786-790. doi: 10.1097/SMJ.0b013e31817c931c

8. NIH Medline Plus. (2007). The Science of Addiction: Drugs, Brains, and Behavior. MedlinePlus the Magazine, 2(2), 14-17. url: medlineplus.gov

9. O’Leary, D. (2017). Do Public Perceptions of Addiction Discourage Addicts from Recovery?. Retrieved from: rehab-international.org

10. McGinty, E. E., Goldman, H. H., Pescosolido, B., Barry, C. L. (2015). Portraying mental illness and drug addiction as treatable health conditions. Social Science & Medicine, 126, 73-85. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2014.12.010

11. Peters, R. H., Wexler, H. K., & Lurigio, A. J. (2015). Co-Occurring Substance Use and Mental Disorders in the Criminal Justice System. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, 38(1), 1-6. doi: 10.1037/prj0000135

12. NIH. (2017, June). Alcohol Facts and Statistics. Retrieved from: niaaa.nih.gov

13. WHO. (2017). Global Health Observatory (GHO) data. Retrieved from: who.int

Page last updated: November 22, 2017