In the United States there are varying figures on the state of substance abuse but the largest one to date coming from Columbia University as published on US News states that there are over 40 million people with some sort of addiction, which includes cigarettes or tobacco products. While most people don’t think of smoking in terms of substance addiction, the health risks are tremendous and a huge amount of money is spent each year on health issues including, but not limited to, an assortment of cancers. Per Wickstrom, serial entrepreneur and founder of several drug rehab centers weighs in on the top substances causing addiction in the US.
What Many People Ignore
What Per Wickstrom finds even more overwhelming than those 40 million who have an active addiction is the additional 80 million who are considered to be ‘at risk.’ Whether it is from an occasional cigarette when out at a club or the occasional toke on a marijuana joint, these people are at great risk for becoming addicted as many of them may have predispositions to addictive behavior. With this in mind, he looks at the top substances causing addiction in the US of which tobacco is by far the most prevalent as it is sold in every corner store, chain store and gas station in the country. Easily accessible and highly addictive, this is one drug that is really hard to combat.
The Substances at the Top of the List
This list may change in numerical order a tiny bit based on which research group or government entity is doing the research, but all agree these are the most common substances causing addiction in today’s economy. The only one that is indisputable is the one that heads the list and unfortunately, most everyday Americans don’t consider substance abuse but it is in a very real way. Here are those that top the list of problematic addictive substances.
- Tobacco / Smoking – Currently it is estimated that there are 40 million smokers in the United States and as nicotine is a highly addictive ‘drug’ it is a hard habit to kick. Cigarettes are sold legally everywhere, age varies by state, and are known to be the ultimate cause of a huge number of cancers and other life-threatening diseases such as COPD and cardiovascular disease.
- Alcohol – With more than 18 million people addicted to alcohol, it raises many eyebrows that the two that head the list are also the two that are legally available to anyone of age. Per Wickstrom notes that sometimes these industries make it difficult to change a societal mindset and therefore harder on therapists who are working with patients to counteract and treat addiction. If it’s so readily available and legal, why is it bad? He believes that what the nation needs is a proliferation of literature aimed at informing the public of the real dangers associated with smoking and drinking.
- Marijuana – This one is highly disputable in that proponents of legalization claim that cannabis is not an addictive substance. However, even if you were to concede their point that THC in and of itself may not be addictive, the mood altering qualities of the drug can create a ‘need’ to smoke or ingest more to get that ‘feel better euphoria’ due to a release of dopamine. But, even here, Per questions why people don’t understand that this is exactly what methamphetamine, cocaine and opioids do. They act on those receptors that make you feel better in the moment but the consequences of addiction are devastating. It is estimated that 4.2 million people have a psychological or emotional addiction to marijuana.
- Pain killers – With 1.8 million people said to be addicted to pain killers, many of which are legally obtained through prescriptions written by doctors, this is a grave concern to the medical community.
- Cocaine – With just over three-quarters of a million people known to have an addiction to cocaine, this is also a drug that needs to be dealt with on various levels. Treatment for addiction is good but Per Wickstrom believes that government could be doing more with their task force to get cocaine off the streets and keep it off.
Those are just the top five substances causing addiction in the US. Also on the list as close contenders are heroin, benzodiazepines, stimulants, inhalants and barbiturates which when combined yield another number of active addictions totaling over 1.5 million.
A Serious Epidemic that Needs a Combined Effort to Combat
As Per Wickstrom notes, addiction is a serious epidemic and one that needs to be addressed on all levels of society. Through his multiple treatment facilities he and his staff work to help addicts recover but the best solution would be to work harder to eradicate the source of addiction. Active in working towards affecting a social change, Per and his group are highly outspoken and at the forefront of campaigns against addictive substances of all kinds.
It will take a coming together of government, the medical profession, substance abuse counselors and the general public, but with a combined effort, it is hopeful that a huge dent can be made in these numbers “in our lifetime.”