"America is Facing an Addiction Epidemic"
The majority of people who are prescribed drugs or try them recreationally do not become addicted to them. Among those who do, there are typically environmental, psychological, and biological reasons that help explain why the drug made them feel good. It is important for journalists to be open-minded when reporting stories of drug use so as not to inaccurately inflate risks and fears. Recovery narratives that focus only on abstinence-based self-help groups do not tell the whole story.
The Informed Narrative:
The total number of people using any given drug in America is stable over the last decade. More people are dying not because more people are using; more people are dying because the supply is more dangerous, more potent, and more accessible than ever.
More than 22 million Americans have also overcome their substance use disorders. Nearly half of all people "recover" on their own without any formal treatment. More than half of those who no longer meet DSM-V criteria for substance use disorder do not identify as "in recovery" from addiction.
In short, only a minority of people who try drugs wind up with a severe case of addiction. But because the severe cases are more dramatic, those stories dominate the coverage, which reinforces flawed perceptions.
The Tired Narrative:
News media tends to focus on the most severe end of the substance use disorder spectrum. The worst of the worst cases of drug addiction are reported as a likely outcome for a majority of people who use and try drugs, often accompanied by graphic images of injection drug use.
News articles describe addiction as a "scourge" wreaking havoc on communities. Law enforcement officials like police and sheriffs are quoted about how to battle drugs in their community.
Moreover, when journalists say they are reporting about "recovery" from substance use disorder, they tend to feature those who attend mutual-aid groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, further cementing the notion that the average outcome of substance use disorder is total abstinence from all drugs.