Addiction. It’s our problem, your problem, everyone’s problem — and it’s time to get real about our nation’s most urgent health crisis. One in three American households bear the burden, so you likely know someone who’s faced the fear and frustration that surrounds this disease. The ripples touch the lives of 85 million people, harming friends, family and co-workers.
Right now, more than 17 million Americans are dependent on alcohol; 1.9 million on prescription painkillers; 855,000 have a dependence on cocaine and more than a half-million are addicted to heroin.
When University of Southern California researchers looked at 11 types of addiction, they concluded that half of those addicted to nicotine, alcohol or drugs are dependent on more than one substance. Still more were addicted to sex, gambling or overspending as well.
Drug-related deaths have increased three- to five-fold since 2001, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, as more children, teens and adults get hooked on alcohol, prescription painkillers, heroin and other chemicals. A life is lost every minute.
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Yet 90 percent of those who need treatment cannot get it.
Clearly, it’s time to start a national conversation about how to manage addiction and how we can improve the health of individuals and society.
That’s why we’re supporting UNITE to Face Addiction, a rally Oct. 4 at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and hope you do, too. (Dr. Oz and Dr. Mike plan to be there, along with Steven Tyler, Sheryl Crow and other performers. Get all the details at www.facingaddiction.org). We will remember those we’ve lost, give voice to suffering families and celebrate those who have recovered.
Addiction is a reversible brain disease, not a moral failing. It’s a result of dysfunction deep within brain circuits involved with reward, motivation and memory. While criminals should be punished, we agree with Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s recent remarks that: “We simply cannot arrest our way out of this problem. We also have to address the root causes of addiction and focus on treatment.” Indiana’s seen a tenfold increase in the number of deaths from heroin overdoses from 2005 to 2013, as well as a rise in child abuse and neglect related to substance abuse. Now the state is among many looking for a new direction. People struggling with addiction need access to research-based treatment, but it’s often too expensive, too far away or has a waiting list that’s too long.
So, what really works for treatment and recovery? One recent national survey found that 79 percent of people thought going “cold turkey” and then attending groups like Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous was the best way to get clean and stay that way. Truth is, by themselves, those programs are almost never effective. A far better approach is the one recommended by NIDA experts and us that combines medications (like methadone to break a narcotics addiction or nicotine replacement plus an anti-craving drug — and a buddy — to stop smoking) with treatment provided by health-care professionals who can help you break old habits and build new ones.
Research underscores the merits of this combination strategy. While just 2 percent of smokers successfully quit cold turkey, the quit rate rises to 3 to 5 percent with anti-craving drugs, jumps to 10 percent when you add a nicotine patch and soars to 30 percent with support and regular exercise. Dr. Mike has seen the success of this approach in his program at the Cleveland Clinic. It helps 64 percent of smokers stay tobacco-free at the seven-month mark.
The ultimate goal of peer-to-peer and professional treatment: Creating new brain circuits that support healthy habits as you let the old, addictive circuitry fade. It can be a long, painful process, but it’s the path to freedom. We can get there only by working as a team, so let’s UNITE to get started. We hope to see you in D.C.
Mehmet Oz, M.D., is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D., is chief wellness officer and chair of the Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, tune into “The Dr. Oz Show” or visit sharecare.com.