There’s a lot of frightening news in addiction reporting nowadays. The opioid epidemic has been trending dangerously for the past two decades and has dramatically worsened in 2020. We have been increasingly isolated, and mental health has taken a huge hit nationwide in the wake of a year at home. However, if you look more closely, there are some uplifting trends across a few key areas that seem to be pointing us in a very positive direction for the coming years. Here is a breakdown of where things are truly going well:

  1. Public Perception

People are beginning to understand that rather than being a moral failing, addiction is a disease. Stigma against people suffering from substance use disorder is falling, and individuals not in active addiction are more likely than ever to empathize with those who are.

This shift in public perception has coincided with shifts in opinions on how to approach treating substance use disorder. For example, according to a survey by Pew Research Center, the US public has become more supportive of states’ moving away from mandatory drug sentencing in the past twenty years. At the same time, nearly 70% of the public supports drug policies that focus more on treatment than they do prosecution. 

Shifts like this are hopeful. We are becoming a country of people who are more willing to talk openly about drug and alcohol abuse and more receptive to helping people get treatment rather than punishing them for a disease. 

  1. Medical Developments

Medical researchers looking at the biological sides of addiction have been branching out into some exciting new areas. 

In looking at systems that affect substance users’ motivation to continue, researchers found that the orexin system could play a vital role. This system was originally thought to regulate food intake but has now been linked to substance urges.

Although the studies are still pre-clinical, they could represent a totally new therapeutic strategy for treating addiction.

  1. Harm Reduction 

Harm reduction organizations have become more and more widespread and publicly accepted across the country. This approach is more focused on limiting the consequences of drug use than it is on promoting sobriety, but it has been effective in reaching its stated goals.

These groups are important to the holistic ecosystem of addiction recovery. They’re working on the frontline – often on a voluntary basis – to offer critical services like needle exchange, supervised injection sites, naloxone, workshops, and outreach programs. 

  1. Legal Policies

Lawmakers have taken notice of public shifts in perception about research around appropriate handling of our addiction crisis. As people have become more empathetic and treatment-oriented, the laws have also shifted. The great news is that these new humane approaches are also more outcome-based, focusing on what works in helping people rather than in what we historically view as morally right. Some examples of legal policies that are placing treatment over imprisonment include:

  • Good Samaritan Laws – nearly every state has implemented laws that protect people who call 911 to report an overdose from being prosecuted for minor infractions like possession. 
  • One state (Oregon) has decriminalized minor drug possession and installed a policy that asks people to seek treatment for drug abuse instead of traditional prosecution. 

These policies are normalizing treatment as a viable option and crucially allowing people to get the help they need instead of adding to personal crises. 

  1. Treatment Works

The wheels of addiction research continue turning, and we are improving our knowledge base of what constitutes effective treatment with each passing year. Community engagement, empowerment, and cognitive therapeutic strategies like CBT and DBT have grown in popularity because we can see that they are working well. Self-help groups like Al-Anon and Nar-Anon are likely to help substantially in the long-term following addiction care. The general trends in addiction treatment has more and more centers offering therapies that are:

  • Evidence-based
  • Personalized to the client
  • Disease-oriented
  • Non-stigmatizing

If positivity is a key factor in individual recovery, keeping the spotlight focused on what is working well in the world of addiction treatment is just as important. It is easy to get pulled into the bad news in the midst of this public addiction crisis, but we are actually poised to make huge headway against this devastating disease in the years to come. 


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