Addiction Facts & Trends

Addiction is a chronic brain disorder, not a behavior issue.

“At its core, addiction isn’t just a social problem or a moral problem or a criminal problem. It’s a brain problem whose behaviors manifest in all these other areas,” said Dr. Michael Miller, past president of ASAM (American Society of Addiction Medicine.) Many behaviors driven by addiction are real problems and sometimes criminal acts. But the disease is about brains, not drugs. It’s about underlying neurology, not outward actions.”

Addiction is a primary disease, meaning that it’s not the result of other causes, such as emotional or psychiatric problems. About 40 to 60% of addiction is based on genetic vulnerability, but other factors are also at play. 90% of those who go on to develop an addiction problem started using drugs or alcohol as an adolescent. And like cardiovascular disease and diabetes, addiction is recognized as a chronic disease; so it must be treated, managed and monitored over a person’s lifetime.


Two decades of advancements in neuroscience have revealed what’s going on in the brain. For instance, research has shown that addiction affects the brain’s reward circuitry, such that memories of previous experiences with food, sex, alcohol and other drugs trigger cravings and more addictive behaviors. Brain circuitry that governs impulse control and judgment is also altered in the brains of individuals suffering with addiction, resulting in the nonsensical pursuit of “rewards,” such as alcohol and other drugs.

A long-standing debate has roiled over whether those with addiction have a choice over their behaviors, said Dr. Raju Hajela, former president of the Canadian Society of Addiction Medicine. “The disease creates distortions in thinking, feelings and perceptions, which drive people to behave in ways that are not understandable to others around them,” Hajela said in a statement. “Simply put, addiction is not a choice. Addictive behaviors are a manifestation of the disease, not a cause.” Even so, Hajela pointed out, choice does play a role in getting help. “Because there is no pill which alone can cure addiction, choosing recovery over unhealthy behaviors is necessary,” Hajela said.

This “choosing recovery” is akin to people with heart disease. They did not choose the underlying genetic causes of their heart problems which they were born with, but do need to choose to eat healthier or begin exercising, in addition to medical or surgical interventions. “So, we have to stop moralizing, blaming, controlling or smirking at the person with the disease of addiction, and start creating opportunities for individuals and families to get help and providing assistance in choosing proper treatment and support for recovery,” Miller said.

Early recovery can be marked by periods of instability. Current research shows that about one-third of people initiating recovery achieve lifetime abstinence without relapse; another third have initial periods of abstinence interspersed with relapses but eventually achieve sustained recovery; and another third do not achieve sustained recovery over their lifetimes. For those achieving abstinence for a period of 4-5 years, risk of relapse drops to 15%. The good news is that research also shows that for those with substance use disorders:

  • A comprehensive array of services assists recovery.
  • Social supports improve recovery outcomes.

In Greenville County there are an estimated 40,000 people who are currently suffering with a substance use disorder. But most are surprised to learn that more than 30,000 people are already in long-term recovery in Greenville County. The national number is 23 million.

Recovery from substance use disorders is a powerful force in the lives of individuals, families and communities, but is largely unknown outside the recovery community. Through long-term recovery, individuals are able to support families, rebuild damaged relationships, restore their physical, emotional and spiritual health, and contribute to the community as active and productive citizens who no longer drain public resources.

40,000 Individuals Affected

Recently updated statistics from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health reveal that over 40,000 individuals age 12 and older in Greenville County have a diagnosable substance use disorder; but less than 10% of these individuals are receiving any type of help at any given time.

Loved Ones Affected by Addiction

It is conservatively estimated that an addicted person’s illness negatively affects at least five other people: parents, spouses, children, co-workers, employers, and friends. At this moment in Greenville County, more than 240,000 people are directly affected by their own or a loved one’s addiction, which is 52% of the population in Greenville County.

Health Issues due to Addiction

Families affected by addiction develop unhealthy ways of coping and adapt to the problematic behavior of their addicted loved one. They experience a variety of health issues: anxiety, depression, lack of sleep, worry, conflict, and stress, which in turn contribute to heart disease, asthma, diabetes, obesity, headaches, gastrointestinal problems, Alzheimer’s disease, accelerated aging, high blood pressure, and stroke. In addition, how effective can a person be on the job if they are preoccupied with an addicted loved one’s self-destructive behavior?

Call for Help

Currently it takes 8 to 10 years after the onset of addiction for the person to find help. What other illness do we wait for it to get worse before we take action?  Call FAVOR today at 864-385-7757.