Date Published: October 31, 2021
Authors: Justin Young, MD; Ellen Edens, MD, MA, MPE; David A. Ross, MD, PhD
Overview: Substance use disorders are the most lethal psychiatric illnesses – more than 90,000 people died last year in the United States from opioid overdoses alone. And what is true for opioids is true for all substance use disorders: only a small percentage of patients are formally diagnosed and even fewer receive evidence-based treatment. Stigma – whether from professionals, the public, or patients themselves – remains a major barrier. It is time to put to rest the insidious notion that addiction is a moral failure. Over the past several decades, a burgeoning body of research has demonstrated a broad range of biological factors that contribute both to the vulnerability and maintenance of substance use disorders. Combined, these data demonstrate that addiction must be managed as a chronic medical illness, just like diabetes and heart disease. Equally important, data on neuroplasticity demonstrate how substance use disorders, like other medical conditions, can remit.
Author Affiliations: Dr. Young is a resident in the Yale Psychiatry Residency Program. Dr. Edens and Dr. Ross are Associate Professors of Psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine. The National Neuroscience Curriculum Initiative is funded in part by the Deeda Blair Research Initiative Fund for Disorders of the Brain through support to the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, the Society of Biological Psychiatry, the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, and by National Institutes of Health Grant No. R44 MH115546-01. ©National Neuroscience Curriculum Initiative.