Drug addiction is a chronic, often relapsing brain disease that causes compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences to the addicted individual and to those around him or her. Although the initial decision to take drugs is voluntary for most people, the brain changes that occur over time challenge a person’s self control and ability to resist intense impulses urging them to take drugs.
Many people do not understand why or how other people become addicted to drugs. It can be wrongfully assumed that drug abusers lack moral principles or willpower, and that they could stop using drugs simply by choosing to change their behavior. In reality, drug addiction is a complex disease, and quitting takes more than good intentions. In fact, because drugs change the brain in ways that foster compulsive drug abuse, quitting is difficult, even for those who are ready to do so.
Recent scientific advances, including those supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), have enlightened our view of drug abuse and addiction, which is now recognized as a chronic relapsing brain disease expressed in the form of compulsive behaviors. This understanding has improved our ability to both prevent and treat addiction.
“We now know that addiction is a disease that affects both brain and behavior,” says NIDA Director Nora D. Volkow, M.D. “We have identified many of the biological and environmental factors and are beginning to search for the genetic variations that contribute to the development and progression of the disease.”
With nearly one in 11 Americans over the age of 12 classified with substance abuse or dependence, addiction takes an emotional, psychological, and social toll on the country. The economic costs of substance abuse and addiction alone are estimated to exceed half a trillion dollars annually in the United States due to health care expenditures, lost productivity, and crime.
NIDA Raises the Curtain on Addiction
Why the “Addiction Performance Project”?
In 2010, 23.1 million people needed treatment for a drug or alcohol problem, and only 2.6 million, or 11.2 percent, received it, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Research suggests that primary care providers could significantly reduce drug use, before it escalates to abuse or addiction. However, many express concern that they do not have the experience or tools to identify drug use in their patients.
That is a primary reason that NIDA is working with actors and actresses to bring to physicians educational performances that help reduce the stigma associated with drug or alcohol addiction. (See accompanying Debra Winger interview.) The Addiction Performance Project includes a dramatic reading of Act III of Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night, which portrays a family’s struggle with addiction. The reading is followed by a dialogue among the participants, aimed at fostering compassion, cooperation, and understanding for patients living with this disease.
“Primary care providers can play such a vital role in screening for drug abuse,” says NIDA Director Nora D. Volkow, M.D. “Yet, for many providers, discussing drug abuse with their patients is beyond their comfort zone. In portraying a family devastated by this disease, the Addiction Performance Project humanizes addiction, which we hope will reduce the stigma around it and encourage physicians to confront potential drug abuse with their patients.”
Performances of the innovative project for physicians continue at selected locations through 2011 and into 2012.
For more information on the Addiction Performance Project,
or to register for a performance,
To Find Out More
The Web site for the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) contains information on all facets of drug abuse, as a part of NIDA’s mission to lead the nation in bringing the power of science to bear on drug abuse and addiction.
The Web site for the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism contains research, resources, and related materials on the institute’s work in the fight against alcohol abuse and alcoholism.
This HBO Addiction interactive companion Web site allows visitors to customize information for their specific needs, with a special emphasis on treatment options. The site features original content by the nation’s leading experts in the science of addiction and addiction treatment, all 14 films in chaptered form, and comprehensive informational tips and resources.