Addiction has become one of the most critical health problems facing our species.
A new study released last month from the World Health Organization (WHO) reveals that alcohol kills 1 person every 10 seconds. The study states that alcohol was the reason that 3.3 million deaths occurred in the world in 2012 and that 16% of people who drink alcohol alcohol binge drink. In addition, not only does risky alcohol consumption lead to addiction, it also puts people at a higher risk for developing more than 200 different disorders. Shekhar Saxena, head of the WHO’s Mental Health and Substance Abuse department, has stated that these numbers actually translate into 1 death every 10 seconds.
Several people who work in the addictions field were probably thinking the same thing I was. Well, that’s no surprise. What was alarming to me was the number of deaths that were accounted for alcohol only! Many of you may be discovering in your practice or in the workplace that the odds of finding someone with merely an alcohol problem is becoming quite rare.
Individuals are dabbling into prescription drugs and street drugs as well as developing other dangerous compulsive behaviours such as sex addiction, eating disorders and problem gambling. Finding the proper treatment for individuals who are facing concurrent disorders has become one of the major and important missions for healthcare professionals across the world.
What does this data tell us?
The WHO continues to be an authority for health within the United Nations system. The purpose of WHO is to provide guidance and direction on global health matters, set health standards, communicate evidence-based policy options, as well as monitor and assess health trends. In essence, they are a legitimate source of statistical data and have the resources to clinically confirm how countries are responding to global health problems.
The fact that the WHO’s report states that 3.3 million people died in 2012 because of alcohol, means 3.3 million people drank excessively and severely to the point of causing bodily harm to themselves or to others. No one sets out to develop heart disease, cancer or addiction. Yet, the reality is addiction has become one of the most critical and detrimental health problems facing our species.
How did this happen? Why didn’t we save more lives?
Addiction is a Primary Healthcare Problem
I believe there are a number of people who don’t think addiction is still a serious problem in today’s world. Several healthcare authorities and associations do tremendous work to help prevent our youth from developing addictions, from binge drinking, and to prevent individuals from driving while under the influence. So why would these problems still exist and at such a prevalent rate? The reason is because numerous individuals do not view addiction as a primary health care issue. It is still viewed as a social and economic issue.
What is the definition of primary health care? According to Health Canada, “primary health care refers to an approach to health and a spectrum of services beyond the traditional health care system. Primary Care is the element within primary health care that focuses on health care services, including health promotion, illness and injury prevention, and the diagnosis and treatment of illness and injury.”
Addiction is an illness and it’s been acknowledged by medical authorities across the globe. It has been and continues to be a primary health care problem that affects everyone. Yet, primary healthcare professionals struggle to find treatment for their patients because many countries have failed to provide its citizens one of the major components to primary healthcare- and that is proper treatment of addiction as an illness.
The Major Gap – Building Awareness to Providing Treatment
As I mentioned earlier, several preventative and awareness campaigns are published frequently every year on the dangers of alcohol abuse and drugs which are fantastic for those who have no history of abuse, no trauma, no major health problems, no financial issues, and has a dependable support network, as well as has a great foundation for handling life stresses.
Some individuals may have the knowledge and be blessed to not have such issues, have the right people in their life, as well as be open to discussing their problems. Yet, several individuals unfortunately face or have faced such challenges and do not know how to manage and pull through. These individuals thus turn to unhealthy behaviours or substances to cope with the pain, despite the negative consequences, and thus are beyond the awareness campaign. These people are in need of medical and psychological treatment.
What You Can Do
If you know someone who may have an alcohol problem or any other behavioural problem and are struggling, the most important thing you can do is acknowledge the problem and offer a helping hand. We need to stop creating campaigns that accusingly point finger at individuals who clearly have the disease of addiction and change the words we use to stop the stigma that has been around for decades. We need to show these individuals through our actions and words that it is understood that addiction is an illness and that it is important to seek treatment for it. Just as you would seek Chemo for cancer or get insulin for your diabetes, people who need addiction recovery need professional treatment to treat their disease.
The sooner we acknowledge addiction treatment and the several benefits of it on the economy, the workplace, the family unit, and the judicial system, the closer the world will be at achieving the WHO’s voluntary global target to reduce harmful alcohol use by 10% by 2025.
Health Canada. (2012) About Primary Health Care. Retrieved from: https://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hcs-sss/prim/about-apropos-eng.php
Thomspon Reuters (2014). The Knowledge Effect: World Alcohol Consumption. Retrieved from https://blog.thomsonreuters.com/index.php/world-alcohol-consumption-graphic-of-the-day/
World Health Organization. (2014) Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health 2014. Retrieved from https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/112736/1/9789240692763_eng.pdf?ua=1
Time Magazine (2014). Alcohol Kills 1 Person Every 10 Seconds, Report Says. Retrieved from: https://time.com/96082/alcohol-consumption-who/