Feel the Vibe. Recovery Awareness Day 2024
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American Despair and Addiction

In 2022, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that life expectancy at birth in the United States was 77.5 years, which is 1.1 years higher than in 2021 but still 1.3 years lower than in 2019. This is a reversal from 2021, when life expectancy dropped to 76.4 years, the lowest it had been since 1996. 

“Across the lifespan, and across every demographic group, Americans die at younger ages than their counterparts in other wealthy nations,” reported Selena Simmons-Duffin for NPR last year. “How could this happen? In a country that prides itself on scientific excellence and innovation, and spends an incredible amount of money on healthcare, the population keeps dying at younger and younger ages.

Deaths of Despair

In his recent Family Workshop presentation, Blanchard founder and CEO Ward Blanchard named “unbearable pain” as a common denominator of addiction. 

In 2015, Princeton economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton argued that middle-aged white Americans without a college degree were now facing “deaths of despair”—suicide, overdoses from drugs and alcohol, and alcohol-related liver disease. They suggested that distress caused by globalization and rapid technological change probably drove those deadly outcomes. Middle-aged whites are now more likely than their predecessors to report pain and mental health problems and are experiencing symptoms of alcoholism at a younger age.

In the webinar, Blanchard presented a chart that showed the United States as the seventh most stressed country in the world—between Sri Lanka and Uganda. And the stress and despair translate into substance misuse and other unhealthy behaviors. “The US is the most obese, addicted, medicated, indebted adult society ever, consuming 90 percent of the world’s pain medicines,” Blanchard said. 

The consequences are severe. While preliminary CDC data suggest a modest decline in fatal drug overdoses in the US last year, the death toll remained devastatingly high at 107,543. As recently as 2015, the US registered 53,356 drug overdose deaths. 

The Loneliness Crisis

A major reason for the crisis is disconnection. “We live in a world where we don’t have time for community,” Blanchard told the webinar audience, reminding them of former times when neighbors met on their front porches. It’s a life of connection we just don’t have anymore.”

Technology had a major impact here. “We are the most connected/disconnected society ever,” he said and asked, “How many of you text each other in the same house, in the same room?”

This lack of genuine connection kills. In May 2023, US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy warned that “widespread loneliness in the US poses health risks as deadly as smoking up to 15 cigarettes daily. About half of US adults say they’ve experienced loneliness,” Dr. Murthy said in an 81-page report.

Loneliness, disconnection from a life of purpose, and relentless stress have had a devastating impact on the lives of ordinary Americans, many of whom are driven to self-medicate their despair with drugs and alcohol. Modern addiction treatment needs to address all of these factors and treat the whole person and their social environment to be effective. 

The Blanchard Institute cultivates a safe, comfortable environment for clients and their families across North Carolina. Our family-centered approach is designed to educate, support, and empower families to play a crucial role in the recovery journey. Family members need to understand the complexities of addiction and their role in the recovery process. The Family System Workshop is part of that approach. 

Our admissions process is discrete, confidential, and non-invasive. Call us at (704) 288-1097—our experienced admissions specialists will guide you through the process and treat you with the dignity and compassion you deserve.

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