The Changing Face of Addiction
When you picture a person with substance use disorder, what is the first image that comes to mind? For many people, that first image is of a homeless person huddled on the street of a city with a bottle of alcohol in their hand, their teeth yellowed and falling out from a lack of personal hygiene and drug use. They live in poverty and are easy to spot, and their horrid condition is a result of their continued substance abuse.
Despite this image remaining a common understanding of addiction, it is really a misconception that obstructs the true face of addiction. For a long time, addiction has been widely considered a mark of the lower class, particularly for those stricken by extreme poverty or from ethnicities that were considered “lesser” by the groups that were in power.
This mental image grew out of observations that many homeless people were addicted to a drug in some form and was then reinforced by how many lower-class workers with ethnicities were known to drink heavily. In Northeastern Pennsylvania for example, one of the most prominent examples of this comes from Irish coal miners, who turned to alcohol to make their difficult work for low pay a more tolerable prospect. While living in terrible conditions and using alcohol as a crutch, they were more prone to alcoholism than citizens from higher classes. Through history, other stereotypes regarding addiction grew across the world that mirrored such misconceptions. For example, there was an early American belief that Native Americans were more likely to develop an alcohol addiction than their white counterparts because they were less educated (when, in reality, they were simply not familiar with alcohol’s dangers).
While these stereotypes may have had some truth to them once, in today’s world they are nothing more than a horrible misconception over the true risks of addiction. Addiction does not discriminate in any way, but instead afflicts people regardless of their socioeconomic background, skin color, ethnicity, and religion. While a person’s heritage and behavioral habits can play a factor in their risk of addiction, no one is safe just because they come from a specific class or race. Even geography cannot save a person, as drugs and alcohol can be found everywhere in this world.
As long as these misconceptions survive (and in some cases thrive), addiction will continue to be a growing threat to every citizen of the world. Failing to understand the risks associated with a drug and underestimating its danger is the leading way to end up addicted to it.
How Addiction has Changed
Addiction’s change in demographics can largely be attributed to its own shifting potency, as well as how drug use is perceived by medical professionals and researchers. Traditionally, when professionals thought about addiction, they would think of the drug alcohol, which has been especially common throughout human history and plays a role in many aspects of a person’s life, from social interaction to religious devotion. Christianity, which has long been the most common form of religion in the United States, frequently uses alcohol as a part of its ceremonies. All of these details made alcohol a common part of person’s life in certain cultures, and as a result its use and side effects became normalized. It was only considered a true problem and an addiction when it had caused easily observable damage to a person’s life. An example of this damage would be when someone begins to look like the homeless addict that has become the poster image for addiction.
Through the 20th century however, new drugs were developed for medical use without a proper understanding of how they impacted a person’s body long term. The drugs were intended to serve a range of needs from reducing the effects of a mental illness to boosting a person’s energy levels. The most notable of these new drugs were for managing pain and became known as opioids, a substance which is derived from the opium plant. Using opium for this purpose was an old concept, but it was now being refined in different ways that drastically increased its potency, and in turn its risks. Since its intention was purely medicinal, opioids were soon found in households across the country, and world, regardless of status, ethnicity, or other varying demographics.
Today, opioids are more common than ever and as a result easily accessible to a host of individuals. Their powerful addictive properties present a distinct risk, and their prominence in medicine for pain relief means that many different people take them. In turn, they exponentially increase the chance of dependence and addiction. In other words, anyone who can receive medical aid is potentially at risk, and since hospitals will never turn away a patient in need, everyone is at risk.
Other drugs once considered rare are similarly accessible, with many of them finding niches within the population that were previously not considered a high risk for drug abuse. A prime example of this is Adderall, which is popular with high school and college students seeking to improve their academic scores. This is a distinct contrast to those who abuse drugs for the sole purpose of enjoying a euphoric high. One could even argue that there is an addictive substance to tempt every person, regardless of who they are and where they came from.
Given that opioids have the fastest rising abuse rates and are continuing to grow, it is only natural for people to wonder why this particular drug stands out among the rest as a key component in the epidemic. Two main reasons include the drug’s potency, as well as the poor understanding of it’s risks among the medical community when it was first being used. Though opioids first began appearing early in the 20th century, their production rates skyrocketed in the 1990s. At this time, pharmaceutical companies insisted that the potential for addiction was minor and they should be utilized more often, even in cases where over-the-counter drugs or physical therapy would have been appropriate. This led to medical professionals writing notably more prescriptions for the powerful painkillers.
However, opioids affect a user’s brain from the very first use and are quite easy to abuse. By the time medical professionals realized this, these medications had already become a serious problem. While some companies, like Perdue Pharma, have halted the production of powerful opioids like OxyContin, it is a little too late. What we have found over the years is that many individuals addicted to opioid prescriptions, soon find themselves experimenting and becoming addicted to more powerful drugs, like heroin. Today, 8 out of every 10 heroin addicts say their addiction first began with opioid painkillers, whether from a legal prescription or from the black market.
The Growth of Addiction
To understand the severity of addiction, it is useful to look at how it has changed over time from a statistical level. As a whole, drug use has been steadily rising each year despite efforts to curb its growth. Some drugs are decreasing in their prominence, but where one decreases another tends to rise. This is a serious problem because addiction can easily devastate a person’s life by causing financial ruin, destroying social ties, and even leading to death.
A few statistics of particular importance reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute on Drug Abuse include:
- From 1999 to 2017, drug overdose death rates in males and females roughly tripled
- From 2002 to 2013, alcohol abuse rates dropped by 1.1% (roughly 1 million), but marijuana abuse rates saw a steady increase from 2007 onward
- Every age group has displayed an overall increase in drug abuse and overdose rates
- There was a 16% average increase in drug overdose deaths from 2014 to 2017, the highest rise in a 3-year period since the study began in 1999
- Opioids overdose rates rose 30% from 2016 to 2017
Addiction does not discriminate; it does not care where you come from, how you were raised, what social status you hold or how much money you make. If the last few years have taught us anything, it is that everyone has been or can be affected by substance use disorders in one way or another; whether it be first-hand experience or knowing someone that has struggled.
Get Help for Substance Use Disorder Today
If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or a co-occurring disorder, time is of the essence! The sooner treatment begins, the better chance that individual has to avoid life-threatening outcomes, such as overdose. While the numbers unfortunately continue to rise, you do not have to be another statistic.
Through effective, high-quality treatment services, you or your loved one can begin the healing process and truly experience a Life…Recovered.
For more information about our program or to speak with an Admissions Specialist today about coming to Brookdale, please call us now at (855) 575-1292.