Health Matters: Substance abuse 101


We've all heard the stories about addiction in our area. As a community suffering with addiction issues, we are not alone. Neither are those personally struggling with addiction.

According to a January 2016 report from Harvard Medical School Center for Primary Care, "Twenty-three million Americans suffer from a substance abuse disorder. To put that into perspective, 29 million Americans suffer from diabetes. Both are chronic, potentially fatal diseases that need regular medical monitoring and management, and both can often be prevented through appropriate interventions."

Substance abuse does not discriminate. It is not a personal failure. Substance abuse is a chronic disease that can impact men and women at any income, educational background, or level of society.

According to a United States National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) in 2013, 24.6 million people over the age of 12 years old were current users of illicit drugs, which accounts for 9.4 percent of the population. More than 21 million people over the age of 12 years, or 8.2 percent of the population, had a substance abuse disorder. More than 22 million people need substance abuse treatment, but only 2.5 million people receive it.

How does drug addiction happen? Substance use starts out because it is pleasurable or helps avoid pain. When addiction occurs the substance is used to prevent the person from feeling bad or going into withdrawal. With addiction, substance use continues regardless of the negative consequences and the desire to quit. Addiction is not a moral failure; it is a disease.

The definition of substance abuse has several characteristics: tolerance of the substance, symptoms of withdrawal when use is stopped, the substance is used more than intended, unsuccessful attempts to quit, significant time spent in procurement and substance use, less involvement in social activities that once gave the person pleasure, continued use of the substance regardless of health effects, increasing interpersonal problems with friends and family, cravings, and increasing failure to live up to ones obligations at home or work.

Just as there are treatment and management options for other chronic diseases, there are ways of managing substance abuse. Treatment for substance abuse may include medication and lifestyle changes. Bennington has the services needed to successfully support substance abuse treatment and ongoing support for recovery.

If you think you or someone in your family has a substance abuse disorder, talk with your primary care provider about treatment options and where to go for care that will best meet your needs. Online, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration ( is a good resource for information on substance abuse.

— Jennifer Fels, MS, RN, is the director of Bennington Blueprint. For more information, contact "Health Matters" is a column meant to educate readers about their personal health, public health matters, and public policy as it affects health care.


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