The Conversation about Addiction Has Changed Since Maia Szalavitz Came to Town

One year ago today, author Maia Szalavitz came to town to talk about addiction.

The conversation hasn’t been the same since.

Maia Szalavitz visits Blacksburg, Virginia

We speak differently about addiction than we did a year ago in our rural town in Southwest Virginia.

  • Our conversations about addiction are increasingly informed by knowledge, not based on belief or theory, particularly with regard to opioid use disorder.
  • We share our personal experience with addiction, either our own or what we’ve observed in loved ones or others, as our individual experience, not as “truth” that others should follow.
  • We’re increasingly aware when we’re speaking uncertainly and say so.
  • People can increasingly arrive at their primary care physician’s office and state they have a substance use problem and get help for it. As Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health recommends, we are finding that consulting primary care physicians for substance use disorders offers first-line, evidence-based care for addiction and optimizes use of the infrastructure we already have in place to take care of our people.
  • Local addiction treatment providers are increasingly embracing evidence-based treatment for addiction and jettisoning the moral model that has dominated addiction treatment for nearly a century. The belief that addiction is a personal problem, rather than a medical one, has inadvertently provided non-treatment and ill-treatment to its sufferers, untold anguish to those with addiction and their loved ones, and needless, tragic deaths. Real care for real problems is making a real difference.

To further deepen our conversations about addiction, let’s talk courageously about these questions:

We can continue to keep our conversations about addiction informed, and monitor hype vs. reality, by examining the data.

  • 14 in 100 Americans are expected to develop a substance use disorder in their lifetimes. (Source)
  • 1 in 100 Americans, 12 and older, met the diagnostic criteria for opioid use disorder in 2015 (0.2 percent for heroin use disorder, and 0.8 for pain reliever use disorder). (Source)
  • Fewer than 2 in 100 Americans met the diagnostic criteria for marijuana use disorder in 2015 (1.5% for 12 and older, 1.3% for 18 and older.  (Source)
  • 6 in 100 Americans, 12 and older, met the diagnostic criteria for alcohol use disorder in 2015. (Source)
  • 15 in 100 Americans, 18 and older, smoked cigarettes in 2015. (Source)
  • Nearly 35,000 opioid-related deaths in year 2015. (Source)
  • About 88,000 alcohol-related deaths every year. (Source)
  • Estimated 300,000 obesity-related deaths every year. (Source)
  • Over 480,000 tobacco-related deaths every year. (Source)
  • No overdose deaths from marijuana this year or ever. (Source)

Let’s keep defining terms to make sure we know what we’re saying. Let’s keep differentiating between correlation and causation.

One year later, what’s author Maia Szalavitz talking about?

How am I doing since, a year ago, I dejectedly typed my woebegone search terms about how to survive alcoholism into Amazon’s search box and Maia Szalavitz’s newly-published Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction, appeared in the search results?

People throw around the phrase, “You saved my life.” I don’t want to go back in time and miss your visit to Blacksburg, Virginia to find out for sure, but I do believe you saved my life, Maia. I’m not sure what would have happened to me without you.

Thank you, beyond words, for visiting my town, Maia Szalavitz.

Laurel Sindewald contributed to the research for this post. Our reports on addiction treatment and addiction policy are here.

Updated 8/14/17


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