Between 2020 and 2021, the number of people who suffered a fatal drug overdose in the US rose by 28.5% according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Looking at opioids in particular, these numbers rose from 56,064 to 75,673 in that same year. Many factors can be attributed to this increase – such as increased loneliness, worsened mental health issues, and decreased access to medical assistance – though the majority can be attributed to the coronavirus pandemic.
Despite this tragic increase in a number of overdose deaths, the whole picture is not as desperate as it seems. Out of 31.9 million Americans who use illicit drugs, 100,000 resulted in fatal drug overdoses in 2021 – only a tiny fraction of users. Likewise, around 95,000 out of 263.6 million people who used alcohol last year resulted in a fatal outcome across the US.
A 2020 CDC & National Institute on Drug Abuse study found that three out of four people living with addiction eventually recover. Another study also found similar data on this front, concluding that 22.3 million Americans in 2021 live in recovery from a substance use disorder (SUD) – that’s 9% of adults! This shows we are surrounded by people recovering from a SUD in daily life, but we are just unaware of it.
Improving Public Perception
Widespread public perception of addiction is quite the opposite of the data these studies have collected, with most people assuming that this diagnosis is a life-long sentence. Some of the reasons why the public has these opinions include:
● Relapse rates
● Length of treatment before going into remission
● The stigma surrounding drug addiction
● The stereotypes the media spotlights about addiction
Treating a SUD is an agonizing process that entails a long and difficult journey, with it typically taking eight years or more to reach long-term remission. However, relapse is a common feature of addiction and going through this cycle does not mean anything for the future of someone’s recovery. Every individual responds to drugs and alcohol drastically differently; therefore, this uncertain time period for treatment can also seem daunting.
Socioeconomics plays a huge role in the rate of relapse, with people who have more financial resources tending to recover faster from addiction. This has resulted in people living in rural areas, alongside Black and Hispanic Americans, relapsing a larger number of times and finding it more difficult to seek treatment. The intensity of an individual’s addiction also impacts relapse rates, with those with milder forms typically taking a shorter time to recover.
Having coverage is a huge help in the treatment of a SUD, with insurance companies covering numerous treatments and support groups. Lots of people enroll into rehab centers in Arizona that accept AHCCCS programs helping them throughout their journey to recovery. For example, some facilities offer therapy and counseling sessions to overcome addiction, as well as support groups and medical assistance. Not having to put a strain on your bank account can help you focus on the recovery journey without worrying about finances.
SUD is a chronic mental illness that is treatable just like other illnesses of this kind – such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or anorexia. Though, because of poor education surrounding drug addiction, many people see the medical condition as a personal failing of the individual. This adds to the negative and hopeless public perception of addiction recovery and also makes people more likely to oppose policies that may assist in improved treatment for the condition.
Another cause of the general public’s poor perception of the disease is the destructive stereotypes that the media has spotlighted for many years. Overwhelmingly, we see drug users portrayed as criminals and outsiders from society who have no hope for their future. This dangerous narrative of scaremongers discourages people from seeking treatment while leaving the people who have survived and are thriving in the shadows.
Inspiring Journeys of Recovery From Substance Abuse
One of these success stories includes the journey of fifty-six-year-old Anna Mable-Jones. In college, she started recreationally experimenting with crack cocaine, where she describes the drug taking her on a “total downward spiral.” Over a decade she struggled with her SUD, going through multiple rounds of rehabilitation treatment and relapsing repeatedly.
Mable Jone’s condition eventually eased – a phenomenon many dealing with a SUD describe happening – and has now lived drug-free for over twenty years. Thanks to the process of recovery, she is now able to do things she never thought she would do again – owning a home and car and starting her own business!
Another story of a similar nature is Travis Rasco’s, who lives in the small industrial city of Plattsburgh. Rasco underwent a decade-long battle with heroin addiction, relapsing multiple times before being able to quit the drug in 2018. He describes his struggles with the disorder as wanting to quit, but not being able to, and not wanting to be “that person,” but having no idea which way to turn.
One particular overdose caused Rasco to have the emotional pivot he needed to break free from the substance and receive long-term medical treatment after pushing his insurance to pay for it. His insurance was first advocating for a 14-day stay in rehab, not wanting to pay for a longer (but needed) 30-day visit, with a follow-up halfway house. Rasco knew the company’s offer wasn’t enough for him to stay clean, and eventually won, getting the medical care he needed. He has been living drug-free for nearly fourteen years now and is married with a newborn.
The Future Is Hopeful
The new study found that on average 75% of people dealing with a SUD have made it into remission – including those on the severe ends of the spectrum. This shows there is so much hope in the battle against addiction. Contrary to popular belief, most people don’t just get through addiction, they actually thrive! Many people who have experienced the turmoil addiction brings actually go on to achieve an extremely fulfilling life long-term. They are succeeding economically and forming stronger relationships with friends and family.
Better education about the high recovery rates from SUDs and amplifying the millions of stories that go unheard will help break the inaccurate view of addiction the general population holds. It will also give hope to the one in ten Americans who are currently dealing with a SUD and inspire them to keep fighting, even after enduring multiple relapses.