Who's Most at Risk of Addiction?

Recovery advocate and author William C. Moyers explains

What's known about who is most at risk of becoming addicted to alcohol or other drugs?

The reality is that nobody's immune to the risk of addiction. It's an illness that does not discriminate. Addiction doesn't care about the size of your bank account, your social standing, education level, occupation, race, religion, or any other demographic category. That said, science tells us that some individuals may be at higher risk of addiction: those who have experienced significant trauma; those who begin using alcohol or other drugs at an early age—in their teens; and those who have a genetic predisposition, because addiction runs in families. Still, so much remains unknown about who may be susceptible to addiction. And so, my take on it: Nobody's immune to addiction.

Why is addiction sometimes called a "no-fault" disease?

That's a tricky term. It could imply that the alcoholic or addict is not responsible when there is, in fact, a component of addiction that's all about the choices one makes, much in the same way certain choices affect those with other chronic illnesses such as heart disease or diabetes. With heart disease, for example, consider the impact of a person's choices around smoking or exercise or diet.

I think the "no-fault" label rings true in the sense that nobody chooses to become an alcoholic or addict. Individuals may choose to use substances, but they aren't choosing the avalanche of full-blown addiction. Instead of the "no-fault" terminology, I always say that addiction is not an excuse, but it is an explanation.

Addiction is so pervasive today; it affects so many families. Has the stigma subsided given this prevalence?

The fact that there is still a stigma is unacceptable. Addiction is the most misunderstood disease of our time. But through science and advocacy, we're making important gains. In the past decade alone, we've come a long way in recognizing addiction as a disease and embracing the reality that people do recover. We know that addiction doesn't discriminate, that treatment works, and that recovery is possible.

Another reason for optimism: Addiction is covered under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act [Obamacare]. That's a key indicator that our nation's policymakers get it. More physicians today are identifying and diagnosing addiction, whether in the emergency room or office visits. All of this reflects a major shift in public perception, with addiction more readily viewed as an illness.

If you're concerned about addiction—for yourself or a loved one—what's the first step in finding help?

Above all, know that it's okay to ask for help. If you're concerned about a family member, friend, or coworker, it's okay to ask them if they need help. If you're concerned about yourself, know that you are not alone. There are people all around you struggling with addiction, and there are opportunities all around you— right in your community—to find answers and help.

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