Report shows disconnect between addiction science, treatment

Columbia University think tank reports doctors aren't trained to treat addiction
by Jaclyn Cosgrove Published: June 26, 2012

Although scientific research shows that addiction is a complex brain disease, many people still misunderstand it as a moral failure or lack of willpower, according to a report released Tuesday.

The report from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University states that U.S. doctors are unprepared to intervene or treat addiction, even though there have been significant advances in the science regarding the disease.

These issues further exacerbate a problem that costs Oklahoma an estimated $7.2 billion per year, according to data from the National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors, which tracks substance abuse trends.

“I think that the real important finding here that hasn't been made clear before is the vast disconnect between what we know about addiction and how to prevent and treat it ... and how the medical profession has largely neglected addressing this disease for a variety of reasons,” said Susan Foster, vice president and director of policy research at the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse.

The think tank's 586-page report outlines the many gaps that exist within the realm of addiction.

Addiction affects 16 percent of Americans age 12 and older, which is about 40 million people, according to the report. That number is higher than the number of people affected by heart disease (27 million), diabetes (26 million) or cancer (19 million), according to the report.

An additional 80 million people are “risky users,” using tobacco, alcohol and other drugs in ways that threaten health and safety.

Blame isn't the point

Unlike other diseases and medical conditions, little is done to prevent risky use of substances, and most people who need treatment don't receive anything that would be defined as evidence-based care, according to the report.

Instead, if people go to see their primary care physician, they're sent to a support group, such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.

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by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, medicine and fitness, among other things. She graduated from Oklahoma State University with a news-editorial and broadcast production degree. Outside of work, she enjoys riding her bike, taking pictures of...
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