Addictions are very hard to overcome. For those who struggle with drug addiction, alcoholism or nicotine addiction, the decision to seek out treatment does not guarantee that life will improve. Many who enter treatment find themselves struggling soon after completion of the program and fall into a cycle of treatment and relapse.
For many others, however, treatment is never initiated. A report from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA Columbia) finds that addictions largely go unidentified and untreated in the United States.
The report focuses on addictions related to substance abuse, including alcohol, drugs and tobacco. The report does not include information on addictive and compulsive behaviors.
Over the past five years, a team of addiction experts, along with specialists in public health and representatives from universities and medical centers joined with judicial experts and mainstream officials to examine the state of addiction treatment in the U.S. The team was led by Drew E. Altman, who is the president and chief executive officer of the Kaiser Family Foundation.
The examination included the review of scientific literature, extensive surveys throughout the U.S. and especially focused in New York State, interviews of leading experts and researchers, focus groups and a review of state and federal licensing and accreditation rules.
The team developed a definition of the word addiction, stated as alcohol abuse and drug abuse and dependence. Abuse is compulsive use of a substance despite the harm to relationships, work and/or physical health, and dependence is defined as use that leads to withdrawal when blood levels of substance use drop.
The experts also defined treatment, including social and psychological therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy and medications designed to treat addictions. Treatment not recognized by the team included religious-based services and detoxification.
The team reports that substance abuse and addiction result in the largest preventable public health problem and is the leading causes of preventable death. In 2009, there were 578,819 deaths attributed to alcohol, tobacco or drugs. They also concluded that the cost of the health problems to the government totals more than $468 billion each year.
However, the findings of the team show that only one in ten individuals struggling with addiction to alcohol or other drugs report receiving treatment.
This finding draws frustration from experts in the field, who consider that 40 percent of all fatal motor vehicle accidents involve someone that is under the influence of a substance such as alcohol or drugs. In the last two decades, there has also been a significant increase in deaths attributable to drug overdose.
The report also includes recommendations for improving identification and treatment of addictions in the United States.
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