US Surgeon General: Addiction is a brain disease that must be treated as a chronic illness

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The U.S. Surgeon General is speaking out about the ongoing and growing drug addiction problem in the country. In a new report released Thursday, Vivek Murthy called for a new way to address addiction, telling Americans we need to understand that it is a brain disease, not a character flaw.

“It was almost impossible to go through my day without any type of drug or alcohol…especially heroin,” said recovering addict Ben Gonzalez.

Ben knows the personal struggle of addiction all too well. Now sober, the 26-year-old man overdosed six times on his journey through opioid addiction-- an addiction that he says controlled his life. The need for the drug was so strong that he compared it to being locked in a room with no water for days.

“It was kind of an out-of-body experience, it can feel unreal. It really truly does become a survival instinct. It becomes the most important part of your life,” said Gonzalez.

Millions of people have similar stories of addiction. Right now, there are more people in the United States that have substance abuse disorders than cancer, but only a small amount are being treated.

“Those are individuals out there. They are not just numbers and we need to start treating them like people and giving them the help that they need,” said Gonzalez.

The addiction report talks about the substance abuse epidemic in the country, telling Americans that addiction is not a character flaw, but a brain disease that must be treated with compassion and urgency like any other illness.

“If you look at the way that people’s lives have fallen apart and the process that they have to go through to make a change, there is no doubt in my mind that this is a chronic illness,” said Gonzalez.

Addiction comes in all different form and can start at an early age. According to the report, the earlier that people start experimenting with drugs and alcohol, the more likely they are to have a substance abuse problem. Those that drink alcohol before the age of 15 are four times more likely to have an addiction than others who start at 20 years old. Also, of children who try illicit drugs before 13, 70 percent will end up addicted.

“The other thing that we have to remember is that each and every one of those people that passes away is a person…with a family,” said Gonzalez.

Less than 10 percent of people who are battling addiction go through treatment. The Surgeon General says that there must be both professional counseling along with addiction treatment to be most effective.

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