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Home > Research Articles > Survey Finds 'Denial Gap' On Drug Abuse

HealthScout

Saturday, September 14, 2002

Survey Finds 'Denial Gap' On Drug Abuse HealthScout - September 13, 2002 FRIDAY, Sept. 13 (HealthScoutNews) -- Millions of Americans habitually smoke pot, snort cocaine and swallow prescription drugs -- yet many of them deny they might be addicts in need of help.

So say the findings of a new U.S. government report on drug abuse, which finds a surprising number of people are unaware that they have a serious problem.

Based on a survey of 70,000 people, researchers at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a division of the Department of Health and Human Services, concluded that an estimated 15.9 million Americans had used an illicit drug in the month before the survey questionnaire.

The results also indicate that around 4.6 million people who meet the criteria for needing treatment do not recognize they have a problem. This figure is significantly higher than previously thought.

Participants were asked questions concerning run-ins with the law, drunken driving, difficulties at school or work, as well as details of their drug use. Many users who said they'd encountered trouble in most areas still believed they were in control of their habit.

"We have a large and growing denial gap when it comes to drug abuse and dependency in this country," says John Walters, director of the White House National Drug Control Policy. "We have a responsibility -- as family members, employers, physicians, educators, religious leaders, neighbors, colleagues and friends -- to reach out to help these people."

SAMHSA's report, released to coincide with the kickoff for the 13th annual National Drug and Alcohol Addiction Recovery Month observance, also highlights the facts that roughly 11 percent of youth aged 12 to 17 and about 19 percent of young adults aged 18 to 25 used drugs in 2001.

SAMHSA Administrator Charles G. Curie says the prevalence of drug use and abuse is partly due to a drop in the amount of people who see certain substances, such as marijuana, as harmful.

Seventy-five percent of illicit drug users smoke marijuana. Of that, 56 percent use it exclusively and about 25 percent use it in combination with other drugs such as ecstasy, cocaine and the prescription painkiller OxyContin.

According to the survey, the perceived risk of lighting up once or twice a week decreased to 53.3 percent in 2001 from 56.4 percent in 2000. "Naturally, perceptions about whether marijuana is harmful or not influences someone's decision to initiate in the first place, especially among teenagers," Curie says.

Curie believes the ongoing campaigns to legalize marijuana are likely contributing to more laissez-faire attitudes. Efforts to portray the drug as harmless are misleading, he says. "The one message we'd like to convey out of this study is that marijuana is a dangerous drug, and we want to assure that if initiation does occur it doesn't occur in as early an age as we've been seeing."

The research supports SAMHSA's position, Curie says. "It continues to show that marijuana harms perception, distorts judgment, can lead to severe anxiety, and heavy use impairs young people's ability to retain information during their peak learning years."

Moreover, he says, adolescents who use marijuana are six times more likely to use other drugs in their early adulthood.

Even though drug users often resist help or shun advice, people close to them should never abandon their efforts to get them into treatment, Curie says. "When you talk to people in recovery and ask them what got them to the point of seeking help, there's usually two things they say: 'I got in trouble with the law,' or 'I had a friend or family member who kept on confronting me and never gave up on me.'"

What To Do

For more information on the harmful effects of different drugs, visit the National Institute on Drug Abuse. If you need help in finding a treatment program, go to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

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