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What would our communities look like if we actually treated and understood addiction like the chronic disease that it is?

Addiction is our nation’s top public health challenge. It affects 23 million Americans, yet 75 percent will never get well due to failures in our system of care and powerful barriers like stigma, shame and fear. Addiction has long been recognized by science as a chronic disease, but almost everywhere it’s still treated like an acute health problem. What would our communities look like if we actually treated and understood addiction like the chronic disease that it is? We would recognize early symptoms, get help before problems are so severe, and have access to supports and services to manage the disease over a lifetime. We would dramatically reduce the human, social and economic costs of addiction. We believe the solution lies in mobilizing sectors with a vested financial interest in the problem – employers, health care systems, health insurance providers, schools, and others – to fundamentally change the way we deal with this disease. The forces of health care reform are an unprecedented opportunity to enlist these players to create a sustainable solution to addiction. Addressing the symptoms of addiction costs our nation $350 billion annually. Few people seek help; too few people get well. Let's make a fundamental, social change, not unlike what occurred with breast cancer over the past two decades. .

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  • Sep 12 2013: Greg, thanks for commenting. Early symptoms of this chronic disease can be increased or abnormal use of substances. Increased internal and external negative effects associated with "using," include worsening physical health, interactions with the criminal justice system, problems at work, relationship issues, and financial problems. Included is a general detachment from things that normally bring a person happiness (similar to depression). Being a mind, body, and spirit disease, it can also claim a detachment from a person's spiritual connection or understanding, whatever that is for that person. It can be dependence on a substance in order to cope with normal life events.

    Obviously, these "symptom" increase in magnitude the further along the disease progresses.
  • Sep 17 2013: Hi Paul. Yes, addiction is a wider problem than the intention of my post. I am discussing only drug and alcohol addiction, which affects about 23 million Americans and costs our country about $350 billion annually. I don't have the stats, demographics, and costs of problems associated with other forms of addiction like the ones you mention. But I'd like to have them. Know of any good sources? I am also intrigued by your notion that problems of addiction are more severe and/or more prevalent now than in the past--and if so, why?
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    Sep 14 2013: Addiction is a wider problem than you perhaps are intending to discuss here. Much problematic behavior is the result of some sort of addiction. Some are addicted to violence - even killing, some to domination/bullying, to stealing, to illicit sex, to gambling, to self-injury, to anger, to destructive risk-taking, to speed (not the drug), to ... It's a nearly endless list. Such psychological addictions are in totality perhaps just as costly to society and damaging to individuals and relationships as substance abuse. They all reward the addict with a rush of endorphins, and lack of fulfillment brings on a similar urge as substance withdrawal. To what degree they can be spotted, dealt with, or managed I've no idea, but the problem seems to have gotten more severe in recent decades - perhaps as a result of greater human densities and reduced social strictures on behavior, though that's just a guess.
  • Sep 11 2013: I believe that this would be a great idea. It would require a major change in the American view of the "rugged individual" beating all odds by themselves.
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    Sep 11 2013: what are the early symptoms, Jim?