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Talking about Drug and Alcohol Addiction


U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy recently released a new report, Facing Addiction: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health, drawing attention to the current public health crisis and calling for collective coordinated action on drug and alcohol addiction.

Chart: Drugs Are Killing More Americans Than Road Crashes
Click to enlarge

The report highlights both the human cost of addiction and the economic costs.

  • Substance use disorders affect more than 20 million people in the United States — almost 8 percent of adults and adolescents.
  • Well-supported scientific evidence shows that addiction to alcohol or drugs is a chronic brain disease that has potential for recurrence and recovery.
  • Only about 10 percent of people needing addiction treatment receive it.
  • Well-supported scientific evidence shows that substance use disorders can be effectively treated.
  • More Americans now die from drug overdoses than in car accidents. (See chart.)

Drug and alcohol addiction costs society more than $400 billion each year and takes tremendous tolls on individuals, families and communities. “The disease of addiction affects people from all backgrounds across our society and we have the knowledge and tools to provide effective treatment,” APA President Maria A. Oquendo, M.D., Ph.D., noted. The report emphasizes that addiction to alcohol or drugs is a “chronic but treatable brain disease that requires medical intervention, not moral judgment.”

Addiction and Substance Use Disorders

Learn about addiction and substance use disorder, including symptoms, risk factors, treatment options and answers to your questions.

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Alcohol is the most widely used substance of misuse among adolescents and young adults in the U.S., more than tobacco or other drugs, according to the National Institutes of Health. Among people aged 12 to 20 in 2015, about 20 percent used alcohol in the last month and 13 percent were binge drinkers, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The chance that children will use alcohol increases as they get older: about 5 percent of 12-year-olds say they have tried alcohol, by age 15 about 33 percent have.

One thing we can all do is talk about the issue. Parents have influence over their children’s choices. Talking to your kids can make a difference, while silence on the issue may be sending a message, too. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence urges parents to take advantage of “teachable moments” when drugs and alcohol come up – on TV , in movies, in discussion about celebrities or friends – to have a frank conversation.

A new guide for parents suggests starting a conversation over dinner about the risks of using alcohol and drugs*.

Here are some tips for starting a conversation.

  • Ask about what they know or have heard about alcohol and drugs.
  • Listen. Let them know you are paying attention and hearing what they are saying. Ask open-ended questions about their thoughts, activities and friends.
  • Talk about the science of drugs and addiction and the risks. (Drugs, the Brain and Behavior: The Science of Addiction is a useful resource.)
  • Talk about potential situations involving alcohol or drugs and possible ways to respond.
  • Be open and matter-of-fact about family history of alcohol or drug addiction.
  • Talk about how people get help and treatment for addiction.
  • Be clear about your expectations and establish rules and consequences.

References & Resources




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