We have an addiction problem. In Kenosha. In Wisconsin. In the US.
We don’t have a specific drug problem. It’s not an alcohol, opioid or THC problem. It’s an addiction problem. One frustrating component of addressing the addiction problem is that, mostly due to stigma, the numbers are incredibly nebulous.
Substance use is said to be the third largest cause of death in the nation, behind heart disease and cancer, but don’t try googling that fact. It doesn’t show up as “substance use.” Instead, we call it “accidents/unintended injuries.” And don’t try figuring out how many people suffer from “addictions.” That number is incredibly ambiguous.
Here’s what we do know: approximately 23 million people in the US are in recovery from a substance use disorder. An approximate 23 million more have active severe substance use disorders. That’s about 1 in 7 people. But don’t try to find that number, either. It will make your head hurt because, again, stigma. And ignore. And also our complete inability to recognize substance use disorders for the deadly health problem that they are.
People are also reading…
Professionals rarely use “addiction” anymore, instead of referring to “substance use disorders mild, moderate, or severe.” And I’m sure this makes sense somewhere. But it isn’t doing anything to help us reduce addictions because we aren’t talking about them. And, quite honestly, we have a really hard time recognizing them. And getting help for them. Because “At least he’s not shooting up heroin.” Even if he is.
COVID caused a dramatic increase in problematic substance use and an increase in overdoses but not just from opioids. Overdos can occur when using any drug but marijuana, and alcohol still kills more people than opioids do. Still. Because alcohol is legal, we don’t talk about that. But, damn, it is dangerous.
We have siloed drugs, pretending that being addicted to one is better than being addicted to another. Our state legislature is now considering legalizing kratom as well as THC, because these drugs are safer than what’s currently being used. Thus far, the numbers show that THC has killed zero and kratom has killed one person in Kenosha County, so, yeah, “safer” except for that one guy.
We have an addiction problem. We cannot incarcerate our way out of this public health issue. We can’t even treat ourselves out of it. And we surely can’t legislate our way out. We can only educate our way out.
Using the Three Cs of Addiction, here’s how to determine if you or someone you know is afflicted: there’s loss of Control with repeated attempts to cut back or control use; there’s Compulsion to use, a sense that use is required, due to tolerance, withdrawal, or physical or psychological need (as in cravings); There are negative Consequences but use continues despite harm – not necessarily “death.” We experience harm all the time without dying from it.
We have an addiction problem, and we can only fix it by preventing it in the first place.
Guida Brown is executive director of the Hope Council on Alcohol & Other Drug Abuse, Inc.