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Dr. Howard Samuels Headshot

Our Addicted Nation Needs to Talk Solutions, Not Blame

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Among all the crimes committed, a mother killing her children is the most heinous of all.

A suburban soccer mom spirals out of control and in a fit of rage allegedly murders her two teenage children, shooting them in the head. A cache of prescription pills found at her home. Eight people killed, when a mother fueled by alcohol drives the wrong way on a New York highway. The driver, her daughter and three young nieces as well as other innocent people in the other car are dead. So much for alcohol and drugs being a personal decision--as many would have you believe. These killings are sickest of the sick. Drugs and alcohol played a role, symptoms of other underlying mental illnesses.

The housewife's husband denies she was driving under the influence, despite forensic evidence to the contrary. Soccer mom's husband files for divorce as she pleads not guilty to executing her kids. In both these instances, I ask, "Where were the husbands before the tragedies?!"

Of course they are not to blame for their wives' actions, but here are horrific examples of deaths that might have been prevented if our nation could come together and recognize we have a crisis in America of drug and alcohol addiction. We must educate families, friends and employers as to the symptoms and warning signs of addiction. By no means am I excusing criminal acts by those sick in their disease, it's important to be aware that the core issue for most addicts and alcoholics is shame.

Alcoholics, drug abusers, compulsive gamblers, sex addicts and all other forms of addictive behaviors are connected to avoidance of feelings. A compulsion to use and abuse despite negative consequences over powers their otherwise rational, emotional and moral compasses. As the disease progresses without treatment, the alcoholic/addict is imprisoned by denial, shame, fear, anger and pain. All of these components keep them spiraling out of control.

Shaming and blaming addicts for their use and behavioral conditions is like putting out a fire with gasoline. Alcoholism is a progressive and fatal illness, yet much of our country continues to be in denial and finger pointing is not only counter productive--but can prevent the person from seeking treatment. In many cases a blaming, shaming attitude by people around the addict can result in overdoses and suicides.

According to the World Health Organization, alcohol abuse worldwide causes nearly 4 percent of deaths. That's more than AIDS, tuberculosis or violence! The study determined that at least 60 types of diseases and injuries are related to over-consumption of alcohol.

A new book out, "Addict Nation," by CNN's Jane Velez Mitchell and Sandra Mohr, explains the role addiction plays in our society. I am in agreement with Jane that an intervention is needed in America to deal with the spiritual void that is making us deathly ill.

I was appalled to read a recent TIME magazine article with a headline which reads: "Should Parents Let Kids Drink At Home? New Data Show Many Do."

It's preposterous that we have come to a point in our culture that whether our kids should drink or not drink--that is the question? The alarming statistics from the National Household Surveys on Drug Use and Health found that 709,000 American 12- to 14-year-olds have imbibed an alcoholic drink within the last month, which makes up 6 percent of the population. Thirty percent of the kids surveyed admitted they were supplied booze by parents or other adults!

While it's unknown which young drinkers are at risk of alcoholism, why even put them at risk? The United States clearly is an addict culture. We have normalized alcohol, drug abuse and every other form of over-consumption and when the behavior rises to dangerous levels it's tagged as lack of will power and weakness. We need solutions to help our children find healthy recreational activities that do not involve alcohol. Drug and alcohol education begins at home.

Like other chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes we must clarify the warning signs and be aware of the signs of abuse because the addict/alcoholic's illness is centered in the brain, so it's often times impossible for him or her to step out of the cycle of hopelessness before devastation occurs and everyone near and dear to them suffers and as we see from car crashes to murders to other violent crimes.

There is not enough room on this page to list the number of wives and mothers who have wept uncontrollably in my office, recalling the neglect of their families and other ways they acted out while under the influence of alcohol and drugs. From celebrities to suburbanites, the guilt and shame is across the board.

If you have a spouse, partner, relative, friend or employee who you suspect is abusing substances you should research the signs of addiction. We can only slay the destructive beast known as alcoholism with a full understanding of how to treat it and help save our loved ones' lives.