Surgeon General’s Report Emphasizes that Addiction is Preventable

Includes 36 pages on prevention and 368 related research references

One of the most helpful—and perhaps, to the public, most eye-opening—aspects of the new and historic “Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health” is its emphasis on prevention. Yes, addiction is not only a disease, but a disease that can be prevented. 

We hold that fact supreme at FCD Prevention Works, part of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. However, the reality that addiction can be prevented—other than through laws that make substance use illegal —is not something widely known or acknowledged by most people. As a result, substance use prevention programs have been historically under-emphasized in our public policy. That is why the 36 pages on prevention and 368 related research references found in U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy’s landmark report stand to be so influential.

Dr. Murthy’s pivotal call to refocus our communal efforts on promoting health is every bit as loud as the famous 1964 Surgeon General’s report on tobacco. Just as that earlier report shaped attitudes toward smoking going forward—and ultimately led to the prevention of many smoking-related deaths and illnesses—the new report released November 17, 2016 is a similar wakeup call regarding addiction, one of the most significant health issues of our time.

At FCD Prevention Works, we use tested, effective strategies, tools and processes to keep healthy kids healthy before the use of alcohol or any other drug ever starts. Unfortunately, these means are vastly underutilized in our homes, schools and communities. Clearly, as the Surgeon General’s report attests, we must do more.

It is a fact that addiction prevention must be a collaborative process. Families cannot cede the responsibility of protecting their sons and daughters to schools, just as schools should not count only on parents to teach their students about the dangers of substance use. Instead, whole communities must come together to accomplish three central objectives:

  • reduce the risk factors that contribute to the initiation of unhealthy behaviors—including substance use – by children;
  • identify and intervene on existing unhealthy and risky attitudes and behaviors that can lead to or heighten drug use; and
  • nurture and strengthen protective factors that contribute to the health and well-being of kids in every community.

We must be galvanized by the reality that drug and alcohol prevention is actually a climate which needs to be built and maintained for, and with, our youth. We cannot hold a single alcohol and drug lecture with our kids at home or at school and then check the box off our list of to-dos.

The prevention conversation must be ongoing, involve everyone potentially touched by addiction, and include not only accurate facts but also useful refusal and intervention skills for our young people to employ as they navigate a world where alcohol and other drugs are far too accessible. Our youth will be safe from addiction only when their environments are wholly protective and preventative of the disease at all levels.

The Surgeon General’s report implores us all to look for ways to embed alcohol and drug addiction prevention into our lives, and doing so is absolutely worth it. If we invest just a little, we will reap exponential rewards. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, for every $1 spent on effective prevention programming, society can save approximately $18 in costs related to addiction treatment, other healthcare, incarceration and lost productivity, not to mention prevent incalculable emotional damage on individuals, families and communities.

The 1964 “Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health” illuminated the devastating impact of tobacco use on public health. In this 2016 report, we are called to see a broader and clearer perspective about the risks and implications of using and misusing any substance. For the sake of the next generation, we implore you to take up the call to get involved in your local community and prevent the disease of alcohol and other drug addiction. 

Visit us at to learn more about what effective prevention in communities looks like. And review the full “Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health”.

Kiersten HewittKiersten Hewitt is the Executive Director of FCD Prevention Works, part of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, in Newton, Mass.

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