Addiction is so deeply shrouded in secrecy, discrimination and shame in America [and I cite America for the sake of the statistics used, however similar realities exist around the world] that the lives of over one-half the population are affected and the economic costs exceed one-half trillion dollars. It was for this reason that I created this graphic to try drive home the point that we must add addiction to our nation’s 2012 political agenda.
Addiction Carries Huge Stigma and Shame Which Keeps Recovery and Help for Families Taboo Topics
In 2004, Faces and Voices of Recovery commissioned a survey, which was conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates and Robert M. Teeter’s Coldwater Corporation. Below are some of the major findings from this poll shared in the Research [survey] Report and accompanying PowerPoint Presentation:
- a majority of American have been affected by addiction to alcohol or other drugs, including a 63% majority who say that addiction has had a great deal or some impact on their life (p. 1 of research report); [“affected by” includes addiction of friend, family member, self or other experiences (slide 2 of PrwPT Presentation)]
- 43% of Americans would be less likely to vote for a candidate for governor of their state who is in recovery [emphasis added] (p. 2 of research report)
- 62% of Americans believe there is strong evidence of stigma and discrimination against people addicted to alcohol or other drugs, with an additional 23% believing there is weak stigma against these Americans (slide 4 of PrwPT Presentation)
- 45% of Americans believe there is strong evidence of stigma and discrimination against people in recovery, with an additional 30% believing there is weak stigma (slide 4 of PrwPT Presentation)
- 42% see the denial of jobs or promotions to people in recovery as a major problem (slide 5 of PrwPT Presentation)
- 47% see the denial of medical, life and other insurances to people in recovery as a major problem (slide 5 of PrwPT Presentation)
Addiction Affects More Than Just the Addict/Alcoholic and Carries Huge Economic Costs
It is well referenced that 23 million Americans struggle with addiction. But there are millions more who struggle with the disease — not personally, but rather as a result of being on the receiving end of someone else’s addiction behaviors, such as: drunken arguments; physical fights; verbal, physical or emotional abuse of others – especially a spouse, child, boy/girlfriend; driving while impaired; domestic violence; problems at work or in school related to drinking or recovering from heavy drinking bouts; criminal activity or engaging in risky sexual behaviors.
I estimate that number to be 145 million American adults and children. Adding to this figure the number of estimated addicts/alcoholics, the total reaches 168 million — over one-half the American population whose lives have been affected by addiction. Where did I get this figure? I extrapolated it as follows:
- U.S. Census Bureau 2011 Population estimates for total numbers of adults (237 M) and numbers of children (75 M)
- Faces and Voices of Recovery 2004 Commissioned Survey for percentage of adults (63%) whose lives have been impacted (this figure includes those with addiction , thus to calculate the numbers of adults affected by someone’s addiction, I deducted 23 million from the extrapolated figure)
- National Association of Children of Alcoholics for the figure on numbers of children (25%) affected by a parent’s drug or alcohol abuse (so it is skewed somewhat in that it’s not strictly counting addiction – rather addiction and abuse)
As I stated, the figure of 168 million Americans whose lives are affected by addiction (either personally or as a result of a friend or family members’ addiction or other experiences) is extrapolated. It’s an estimate.
As for the economic costs, those are more straightforward, although these do include substance abuse and addiction. They are reported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and Alcoholism (NIDA) (revised March 2011):
Estimates of the total overall costs of substance abuse in the United States, including productivity and health- and crime-related costs, exceed $600 billion annually. This includes approximately $181 billion for illicit drugs,1 $193 billion for tobacco,2 and $235 billion for alcohol.3 As staggering as these numbers are, they do not fully describe the breadth of destructive public health and safety implications of drug abuse and addiction, such as family disintegration, loss of employment, failure in school, domestic violence, and child abuse. [NIDA]
Why do I thinks it’s okay to be mixing both substance abuse and addiction in some of these figures? Because addiction is a developmental disease. It starts with substance abuse, which is what chemically and structurally changes the brain. These brain changes in turn make a person more susceptible to his/her risk factors for developing the disease. And, frankly, I didn’t know how to separate substance abuse from addiction costs, nor the numbers of children’s whose lives are affected by substance abuse vs addiction. In my view, however, they all lead to the same place — a life affected, a cost incurred because of the stigma, discrimination and shame that surrounds all-things addiction.
Get Involved – Contact Your Elected Official
Wherever this disease touches you — as the addict/alcoholic in recovery, the person struggling with substance abuse or addiction, or the family member trying to cope or help a loved one find treatment — please add your voice. We must end the secrecy, discrimination and shame that is obstructing addiction treatment, recovery and prevention efforts.
And what better month to start than September – National Recovery Month.
Faces and Voices of Recovery is a leader in these efforts. Check out their CAMPAIGNS and their ONLINE ADVOCACY CENTER. Then do what you can to encourage your elected officials to tackle the issue of addiction. Here’s the link for the contact information you will need (for state, national and government agency officials). You can also make your voice heard by voting November 6. Click here to register.
Working together, we can add addiction to the 2012 political agenda. Working together, we can save millions of lives; we can improve millions of lives; we can even save billions of dollars.