The summer of 2017 saw a wave of opioid overdoses make headlines in Bloomington, and it became increasingly impossible to ignore the impact this epidemic is having on our communities. Task forces were established and new treatment centers have been proposed.
But even as we begin to address the problems of illicit drug and prescription medication addiction, new studies are shedding light on an even more prevalent problem—an increase in the misuse of and addiction to alcohol.
According to a new study published in JAMA Psychiatry, several signs of alcohol misuse are on the rise, leading to the startling conclusion that as many as one in eight American adults—12.7 percent of the population—meets the diagnostic criteria for alcohol use disorder. And while a 2016 Surgeon General’s report noted there were 47,055 drug overdose deaths in 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that from 2006 to 2010, alcohol was linked to 88,000 deaths per year. A failure to recognize alcohol as a drug is obviously naïve—and dangerous.
Unfortunately, whether the addiction is to drugs or alcohol, we have come to expect those who are addicted or in recovery to stay silent about what has long been recognized as a medical disorder. Addiction is as much an illness as heart disease or diabetes, and yet it is still often treated as a crime (in the case of drug addiction) or a moral failing (in the case of alcohol addiction). In fact, addiction is a chronic health condition, one that can be controlled through long-term recovery.
Like the increase in awareness about breast cancer in the 1970s (in part due to first lady Betty Ford’s openness about her mastectomy) and the often radical push for HIV/AIDS awareness in the 1980s, there is now a growing addiction recovery movement that seeks to pull it from the shadows of guilt, shame, and stigma. While respecting the traditions of anonymity surrounding many recovery programs, there are now people in recovery who feel it is time to start discussing addiction honestly and openly as an illness and a public health issue.
The men and women featured here came to Bloom and asked if we would publish their stories. They are eight of the more than 23 million Americans in long-term recovery. Their shame vanquished, they hope their stories will inspire others who are suffering to seek help. We hope so, too.