Prevention as a means of fighting illness has a strong basis in American health policy. Every year, public and private entities promote steps like getting flu shots and undergoing routine health screenings to either prevent illness altogether or allow for the possibility of early intervention, when diseases are easier to treat.
Likewise, prevention must be a component of how the nation copes with substance abuse. However, with substance abuse, prevention is not as simple as getting a yearly inoculation or screening x-ray. It has to encompass dimensions of behavioral health, socioeconomic status, stigma, and early intervention, to lower the burden on those who provide specialized interventions and the patients who must recover from entrenched substance abuse. Here are some ways prevention can be used in the fight against substance abuse.
Learning About People Who Have Not Developed Addictions
Research into individuals and populations that do not develop illnesses can provide important clues as to how illnesses develop in others. For example, some people have a genetic mutation that makes them resistant to HIV. People who survived the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic retained antibodies against the flu strain for life.
Things are more complex with epidemics like the current opioid crisis. For example, there is speculation that racism may partially account for lower rates of opioid addiction in black and Latino populations, because doctors prescribe opioids more cautiously to non-white patients. If racial stereotyping is inadvertently protecting a segment of the population, it is important to understand that phenomenon as well. There is really no such thing as too much knowledge when it comes to fighting substance abuse.
Promotion of Behavioral Health
It has long been known that people self-medicate and develop substance abuse disorders when they do not receive the mental health care they need, so behavioral health promotion must be a part of any societal approach to prevention of substance abuse. This is challenging and expensive, but it pays off many times over in terms of preventing long-term addiction, overdose, and death. Promotion of behavioral health must take place on individual, family, and community levels, with such approaches as:
- Bystander intervention training
- Countering cultural stigma surrounding mental illness
- Continuing education for doctors and other behavioral health professionals
- Taking steps to strengthen families and communities
Similarly, when prevention is not 100 percent effective, early intervention should be the next step in countering substance abuse. Just as diseases like heart disease and cancer are easier to treat effectively when they are diagnosed early, substance abuse is easier to treat when it is diagnosed early.
Early intervention is likewise a comprehensive effort if it is to be effective. For example, businesses can demonstrate a commitment to employees with substance abuse disorders by offering treatment benefits in health insurance plans and encouraging employees to use the services if they need to do so. Healthcare providers can screen for substance abuse disorders, prescribe opioids and other addictive drugs responsibly, and implement accountability steps to ensure patients comply with prescriptions. Schools and colleges can implement programs, such as peer-to-peer support and student assistance programs, to serve people seeking help for potential substance abuse disorders.
Long Term: Developing Alternative Methods of Treating Chronic Pain
Conquering the opioid crisis in America will depend on the development of effective, non-opioid methods of treating chronic pain. Furthermore, since opioid addiction can be so insidious, healthcare and dental professionals will need to re-evaluate their prescribing procedures and use non-opioid pain relievers when possible to prevent a routine medical or dental service from leading to substance abuse.
Substance abuse treatment can be effective, leading to long-term recovery and fulfilling lives for people who complete treatment and engage in long-term follow-up care. However, the fewer people who develop substance abuse disorders, the less overburdened substance abuse treatment facilities will be, and the more likely people with substance abuse disorders will be able to undergo treatment for their disease.
If you have a substance abuse disorder or are unsure whether you do, we encourage you to contact us at any time. We are ready to answer your questions and help you navigate the path to long-term health, free of addiction.