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The Faces of Treatment

The Faces of Addiction

When you think of drug, alcohol or sex addiction, what stereotypes come to mind?  What preconceived ideas do you have about what it means to be an addict?  How does that influence your ideas about treatment?

23 Million Americans face addiction.  That’s 10 percent of our population.  That’s a big number.  But we know that 23 million Americans do not fit the old stereotype of a “normal” addict.  So what does the modern face of addiction look like?  Over the years, as more information has become available to us, we have been able to break down those old myths of what addiction means.  Today, the faces of addiction are diverse.


Myth 1:    An addict is someone who is weak or immoral or inherently “bad”.  Addicts come from bad families and often have criminal records.

Truth:    Addiction problems face everyone.  The “good” and the “bad” – addiction doesn’t know moral or legal boundaries.

Myth 2:    An addict can make a choice not to be that way.  Only the really near-death kinds of addicts need treatment.   I’m not as bad as him/her, so I shouldn’t need treatment.

Truth:    An addict by definition cannot decide on his or her own to stop using.  Most need help to stop.  Most are closer to life-threatening circumstances than they realize.  Nobody is too sick or too well for treatment.  If you have identified that you may have an addiction problem, there is help available to you, no matter what level you think you are.

Myth 3:    Addiction treatment will only result in relapse and is therefore a futile exercise.  It’s pointless.

Truth:    Relapse is a hard reality that many face.  Relapse is part of addiction.  But treatment includes dealing with it and moving on.  Relapse is not failure.

Myth 4:    An addict is someone who wants drugs or alcohol.  I am addicted to something else, so I’m different, worse.  No one has this problem.

Truth:    Addiction comes in many forms.  Drugs and Alcohol are only part of the addiction spectrum.  In reality, there are several types of addiction, including addictions to gambling, sex, work, illegal drugs, prescription drugs, alcohol and the list goes on.

Addiction is more “normal” than we realize.  It crosses social, racial, gender and economic lines.  People from all walks of life struggle with addiction in varying forms.  Mothers, children, the elderly, the poor, the wealthy, the ones who were “raised right”, the criminals, the mentally ill, the seemingly stable, the politician, the nurse, the doctor, the world leader, the homeless person...  All of these are faces of addiction.  All of these types of people have been documented to have dealt with addiction.  Addiction is not limited to only happen within a certain framework.

Analysis of SAMHSA’s 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows illicit drug use to be prevalent across all age ranges.  For youths ages 12-17, 10.1% use illicit drugs. For young adults ages 18-25, the number is 21.4% and 6.3% of adults ages 26-59 use as well.  They also show that 17% of older adults (60+) battle addiction problems.

As for gender, the difference in addiction problems isn’t that great.  Male drug users account for 11.1% of the population, Female for 6.5%.

SAMHSA’s survey revealed that drug use isn’t dependent on ethnic background either.  The stats range from Asians using less at 3.8%, to 8.4% among Hispanics, 8.7% among whites, 10.0% among African Americans, 11.0% among Native Hawaiians or Other Pacific Islanders, 13.4% among American Indians or Alaska Natives, and 13.5% among persons of two or more races.

A review of the data from SAMHSA’s 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reveals statistics that prove that drug problems cover the full spectrum of demographic data.  Drug and alcohol addiction is not restricted to a certain “kind” of person.  Some have circumstances that make them more or less likely to use drugs, but that could be said for just about any substance.  The point is that addiction problems are not abnormal.  They do not set a person apart from the rest.

And it isn’t just Americans who struggle with addiction.  Drug and Alcohol abuse are a huge global problem.  The annual value of the global illegal drugs trade is around $400 billion.  In the UK alone, the annual cost of drug abuse is £19 billion.  We are not alone.

According to SAMHSA, only 11% of those 23 million who struggle with addiction are getting treatment.  If you are having addiction problems, you are most certainly not alone.  Every person facing addiction comes with a different background, story, type and level of addiction... but just as the faces of addiction are diverse, so are the options for treatment.  Don’t let old, false stereotypes and ignorant social stigmas keep you from getting the help you need. 

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