Alcoholism and opiate addiction are similar in many ways. The reason alcoholism and opiate addiction have been so difficult to treat is that both forms of addiction are what I’ll call ingrained. Some might think “ingrained” is not a useful description when addiction creates that implication, but alcohol and opiate addiction are different from, say, cocaine addiction. Cocaine and meth are bingeing drugs. The brain changes caused by cocaine make it difficult for the cocaine addict to not return to cocaine after a period of abstinence, but the human body can’t tolerate sustained, daily use of cocaine. Because cocaine and meth damage the body so quickly, cocaine/meth addicts usually reach a bottom fairly quickly.
However, with alcoholism and opiate addiction, a person can use the drugs on a regular basis for decades. The alcoholic and opiate addict usually live with the drug closely and intimately for a long time before there’s physical damage. Because alcohol or opiates gradually become normal for the addict, it’s difficult to treat. The drug becomes such an important and steady part of day-to-day living, trying to live without it is often overwhelming. The current plans to deal with the opioid crisis lack true understanding of what it will take to deal with the problem. Throwing money at the problem and locking dealers up will not solve the problem — and ignoring alcoholism while focusing totally on opioids misses the larger crisis of addiction in general.
Addiction is not about which drug is legal or socially acceptable — addiction is a medical issue that unless treated by medical professionals will continue to get worse. Yes, there’s a psychological component, and morality/spirituality is even a topic of treatment, but unless the science of addiction is understood as a medical issue there’ll be no progress finding solutions. The demand for drugs, alcohol, opiates, etc., will ensure a supply. We found out in the 20th century that prohibition efforts don’t work. Also, stating that if people never use drugs they won’t get addicted is so naïve it doesn’t deserve a response. The reality is that alcoholism and opiate addiction will grow worse unless there’s access to quality, long term treatment, along with widespread understanding of addiction among all healthcare and insurance professionals. It will also help if employers gain a good understanding of addiction, from the social/economic impact side of the issue. Our society is bleeding resources like never before mainly because addiction is misunderstood and mistreated. The worst part, though, is all the broken homes, suffering and preventable, premature deaths — we can deal with the problem, but not unless it’s understood.