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One-Third of Americans Have an Addicted Relative

By February 10, 2009

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Nearly 1/3 of Americans have an immediate family member who has or have had an alcohol or drug abuse problem and almost half of those families have more than one member who had an addiction problem. For most of those families the most significant negative consequence of that addiction is the embarrassment or social stigma.

These finds were part of the "Attitudes Toward Addiction Survey" conducted by the Hazelden organization.

The telephone survey of 1,000 adults revealed some lingering stigma associated with alcoholism and drug addiction in spite of the fact 78% of those surveyed agreed that drug addiction is a chronic disease rather than a personal failing.

According to Hazelden, when survey participants were asked to describe people who have problems with drugs or alcohol included: "sinner," "irresponsible," "selfish, "stupid," "uncaring," "loser," "undisciplined," "pitiful," "pathetic," "weak," "criminal," "derelict," "washed up" and "crazy."

"What Hazelden's new survey brought home to me is that Americans understand addiction is a disease, yet much more work must be done to explain how effective treatment can be for addicts and to bring an end to the stigma that prevents addicts from pursuing treatment," said William Cope Moyers, executive director of Hazelden's Center for Public Advocacy in a news release.

The Prevalence of Addiction

Here are some of the survey findings about the prevalence of addiction:

  • Nearly one-third of Americans reported past abuse of alcohol or drugs in their immediate family.

  • Of those households with an immediate family member who had an addiction problem, 44% reported more than one family member with a drug problem.

  • A third of the families which reported a drug problem in their immediate family say that a majority of their family members have problems with drugs.

  • With one in six of the respondents dealing with substance abuse in their family, every member of the family has a problem with drugs or alcohol.

  • When asked about extended family, virtually half of Americans surveyed reported three or more family members have experienced a problem with drugs during their lives.

Attitudes About Prevention, Treatment

The survey also revealed attitudes about prevention and treatment efforts:

  • 79% percent feel the War on Drugs has not been successful.

  • 83% agree that much more should be done to prevent addiction.

  • 83% believe that first-time drug offenders should get chemical dependency treatment rather than prison time.

  • 77 percent agree that many addicts who complete treatment go on to lead useful lives.

  • 71% agree health insurance should cover addiction treatment, but most have no idea if their own insurance will pay.

As a result of the survey, Hazelden's Center for Public Advocacy will launch a public advocacy campaign in Washington, D.C. and across the United States this year.

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