According to Addiction Policy Forum, on average, we lose 144 people a day to drug overdoses and that number climbs to 375 if you factor in alcohol-related deaths. But what do we mean when we actually say “addiction?” How does it differ from those who partake randomly? Isn’t it a choice to use or not use?

View a 4-minute overview to gain a better understanding of what addiction is, and what it isn’t. If it impacts your family, or you want to make a difference in your community, it's best to start with a basic understanding of the disease called addiction.

To explore a more detailed understanding about the disease of addiction and its impact on the brain, review the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)’s brief: Chronic Substance Use and Cognitive Effects on the Brain: An Introduction

Alcohol is especially toxic to the developing brain. Excessive alcohol use damages brain cells and the fibers that connect brain regions, shrinks certain brain regions, and stops new brain cells from maturing. Some brain regions, such as the ones involved in memory, continue to make new neurons during adolescence through the expansion of neural stem cells. But alcohol specifically targets neural stem cells, so its negative impact is magnified in adolescents.
In 2016, Dr. Vivek Murthy issued the first-ever Surgeon General's report on substance abuse. "The most important thing is, we have to change attitudes towards addiction and get people into treatment," Murthy said in an interview. "Addiction is a disease of the brain," he added, "not a character flaw." The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health states that 1 in 7 will develop a substance use disorder sometime in their lifetime.

Surgeon General Murthy standing on brick walkway facing away, standing next to blue banner with SG seal and quote

What is missing in this historic report is the impact on the children in homes with parental addiction. With 1 in 4 children living with parental alcoholism, the number grows to 1 in 3 children hurt by a parental substance use disorder when drugs other than alcohol are involved. Parental addiction, one of the CDC's identified Adverse Childhood Experiences, can profoundly impact a child’s mental and emotional development at very early ages resulting in lifetime problems. Additionally, the presence of addiction tends to be indicative of additional ACEs in a child’s life, further compromising mental and emotional development of these vulnerable children and teenagers at risk for substance use disorders themselves.

To prevent these outcomes, we must do everything possible today to support and protect these innocent victims of addiction. We must work to save their parents and ensure that treatment is available to help them recover and heal and be responsible parents -- for the good of the children, the whole family and the health and safety of our communities. This is a genuine epidemic and our country needs aggressive actions to stop it in its tracks, and these action must include intervention and support for its impacted children.