The term “substance abuse” has historically been a term associated with “addiction”. However, every substance abuser is not an addict (as addiction is an actual disease and abuse is behavioral). I have found that oftentimes this creates confusion, apprehension and ultimately has a negative impact on "how" society views the disease of addiction, or, is willing to engage in any productive dialogue on the topic. How many times have you heard someone say…”sure...I drink (or, recreationally use some substance), but I’m not an addict”.
It is estimated that between 13 and 15% of the U.S. population suffer from actual addiction. Generally, these stats are gathered from hospital admissions of individuals whose addiction has become physically disabling or life threatening. Substance abuse on the other hand is obviously far more prevalent and individuals may abuse substances for a life time, yet be fully functioning without any major dire consequence and invisible to statistical inquiry.
Accordingly, as a collective society - what is it that we are really speaking about?
My personal opinion is that the answer to this question is that we are speaking about “impairment”. The point when substance use and/or abuse leads to actual physical impairment and consequently progresses through the chronic (and, ultimately life-threatening) stages of addiction. Although this may be a minor point, I truly believe as a society, it is imperative to properly define and direct both dialogue and research on the national level. We need to lead in what it is that researchers are actually trying to discover. Is our inquiry looking at the effect that substance use and/or abuse has both physically and mentally upon an individual? Or, are we examining substance use and/or abuse whereby an individual begins to suffer from actual physical and mental impairment and subsequent addiction? I believe it to be both. However, there is an important need to re-examine and re-direct our discussions on substance abuse, impairment and addiction and clarify how our society understands this complex multi-factorial state of being.
Raymond G. Ferrero III, Esq. - Addiction Recovery Legal Services, LLC