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Addiction: Misunderstood, Greatly Undertreated, Report Finds


Only about one in 10 people who need treatment for addiction to drugs or alcohol receive it, according to a new report. Many who do receive treatment do not receive evidence-based care, according to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA Columbia).

Many people misunderstand addiction, and think of it as a moral failure or a lack of willpower, instead of a complex brain disease, according to the report, Addiction Medicine: Closing the Gap between Science and Practice. The report finds that doctors are not prepared to intervene or treat addiction, according to The Oklahoman.

“Right now there are no accepted national standards for providers of addiction treatment,” lead investigator Susan Foster, CASA Columbia’s Vice President and Director of Policy Research and Analysis, said in a news release. “There simply is no other disease where appropriate medical treatment is not provided by the health care system and where patients instead must turn to a broad range of practitioners largely exempt from medical standards. Neglect by the medical profession has resulted in a separate and unrelated system of care that struggles to treat the disease without the resources or knowledge base to keep pace with science and medicine.”

According to the report, addiction affects 16 percent of Americans ages 12 and older—about 40 million people. That number is greater than those affected by heart disease (27 million), diabetes (26 million) or cancer (19 million). In addition, 80 million people are considered “risky users,” who use tobacco, alcohol and other drugs in ways that threaten health and safety.

Foster noted that many doctors are not prepared to treat addiction for several reasons. Medical schools’ curriculum generally does not cover addiction, and there is no nationally accepted set of standards for how physicians should treat addiction, she said.

9 Responses to this article

  1. miastella / June 30, 2012 at 11:16 am

    Moral failure occurs after the addiction takes hold. You can’t tell me that a 12 year old in an addicted environment is making a “sinful” choice to pick up substances. Addiction is complex, with many influences in to it and many paths out of it. Ergo, many levels of treatment.

  2. Bill Crane / June 30, 2012 at 1:25 am

    The statistic is not so vaguely familiar. I remember almost thirty years ago earing the same numbers – one in ten not receiving help and most not receiving adequate or appropriate help. CASA has so many more misses than hits in the alc/drug abuse field I’m surprised they still publish anything at all.

  3. Avatar of WeDoRecover
    WeDoRecover / June 27, 2012 at 3:45 am

    Its unfortunate that so many people do not understand the urgency and importance of addiction treatment.

    Addiction is a disease that cannot be cured and with the ever increasing amount of people becoming addicted globally, special attention needs to be paid to ensuring that addicts receive the best possible care available.

  4. Avatar of Pastor Michael Wrenn
    Pastor Michael Wrenn / June 26, 2012 at 7:40 pm

    God certainly does not recognize addiction as “a complex brain disease.” It’s better defined as bondage resulting from the sinful behavior of substance abuse. I spent ten years as an addict myself, and with over thirty years of sobriety, I consider myself completely recovered. As a result, I have authored the book, “God’s Addiction Recovery Plan: The Biblical Path to Freedom.

  5. Avatar of Drew Stromberg
    Drew Stromberg / June 26, 2012 at 7:23 pm

    Does the report say that people don’t seek treatment or don’t receive it? If they don’t seek treatment, maybe it’s because drugs are illegal and people fear prosecution and/or stigmatization.

  6. Avatar of Dr. Neil Bernstein
    Dr. Neil Bernstein / June 26, 2012 at 1:38 pm

    We need to look at whether prexisting emotional issues increase the likelihood of marijuana use or whether smoking pot creates these problems. The study does not address this and it is essential to understand!

  7. Avatar of Trish frye
    Trish frye / June 28, 2012 at 12:31 pm

    How do you know what God thinks? His word tells us we can’t know that. I too consider myself recovered and i am a christian but legalistic attitudes keep the lost from finding God. Addiction is a brain disease just as diabetes is a pancreas disease…. Many diseases are caused by sin…but just stopping the sin may not cure the sickness.
    Overeating=diabetes, smoking=cancer or emphysema or heart disease, permiscuous sex = HIV or VD…. Are those not diseases?

  8. Avatar of Brian Whelan
    Brian Whelan / June 28, 2012 at 6:54 pm

    Treat the addiction first professionally. Then someone actually has the chance of finding God. Addicts and alcoholics have been aware of narrow-minded judgement calls for years and those prejudgements have been keeping them “out there”. I found my God after I became sober. Love Ya, Brian..

  9. Avatar of Kathy
    Kathy / October 7, 2012 at 8:36 pm

    I believe the work of Dr. Nora Valkow and her team support the diagnosis of addiction as a “brain disease”. I am a Christian and I serve a merciful God but I cannot tell you what He thinks. The fact that this disease can be tracked back for 200 years in family systems, clearly supports the findings of Dr. Valkow. I’m with the people that say get people into recovery and as their brains start to heal, they are more likely to find God.

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