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“I was a heroin and crack addict and alcoholic for 20 years. I would steal on a daily basis and have been to jail several times for drug- and alcohol-related offenses. I got sick and tired of being sick. I am only seven months into recovery, but now I wake up every morning just happy to wake up.

“My most difficult day in recovery is a thousand times better than one in active addiction. I want to make sure every addict knows there’s a solution. No addict needs to feel helpless. I want to give addicts hope that there is something that works. There is recovery for everyone who wants it.”

—David, a 38-year-old recovering drug addict

 In the United States, at least 22 million adults, adolescents and even children are addicted to alcohol, drugs or both. If every addict affects just three family members, that adds up to more than 130 million people who are impacted by chemical dependence in one way or another. The devastating social problems closely associated with addiction include family disintegration, domestic violence and child abuse. Although this situation is disturbing, we must keep in mind that there is hope. Hope comes from understanding this disease and learning just how treatable it is.

Understanding Addiction

According to the Mayo Clinic, “Drug addiction is a dependency on a street drug or a medication. When you’re addicted, you may not be able to control your drug use and you may continue using the drug despite the harm it causes. You may want to quit, but most people find they can’t do it on their own.” When medical researchers and social scientists first started studying addictive behavior in the 1930s, alcoholics and drug users were thought to be seriously morally flawed people who simply lacked the willpower to stop. Today, thankfully, addiction is generally recognized as a chronic, but treatable, brain disease. The National Institute on Drug Abuse points out that the brains of addicted people “have been modified by the drug in such a way that absence of the drug makes a signal to their brains that is equivalent to the signal of when you are starving…It’s as powerful as that.” Adolescents and adults take drugs for many reasons. Cocaine and heroin, for instance, initially cause intense feelings of pleasure. People suffering from social anxiety, stress and depression often start using drugs to lessen their sense of distress and hopelessness. Recently, we’ve seen many professional baseball players, cyclists and runners take anabolic steroids and other drugs to give them a competitive advantage. And some individuals, especially teenagers and young adults, start using marijuana or the party drug ecstasy because of peer pressure, curiosity or the desire to engage in on-the edge daring behaviors.