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As with most types of medical and psychological disorders, addiction is constantly undergoing research in an effort to find better ways to treat and manage this disorder. Government health organizations, such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Authority (SAMHSA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), are consistently performing research and conducting surveys in the field.
At the same time, private organizations and other groups perform studies and research to learn more about the patterns and physical causes and effects of addiction, and to try to find better ways to help people achieve recovery from addiction.
This data is generally presented through medical and scientific journals, as well as through the federal census and health oversight agencies, where it can then become part of the ever-growing library of information on addiction.
Data on addiction comes from a variety of sources, including surveys, scientific studies, and evidence provided by treatment centers and hospitals. Some of the main sources include:
There is a great deal of data about substance abuse and addiction. Data on mental illness has been collected since the mid-1800s, and addiction itself has been studied by scientists since about 1930.
Every year, more and more information is being gathered regarding various aspects of substance use disorders, such as:
Often, the answers to questions raise new questions, so research is ongoing. Substance abuse and addiction are still not fully understood, but each study helps fill in more information that clarifies the conditions and the ways to treat them that are most likely to result in recovery.
Data accuracy often depends on the way it was produced. For example, data that comes out of scientific research may be inaccurate if the study was poorly designed or if the sample size (the number of people involved in the research) is too small or not representative of society on the whole. Nevertheless, when this type of data is published, it is reviewed by other scientists and retested, so that as time goes by, the most accurate data is what survives.
Data that comes out of surveys and practical evidence that comes out of treatment centers can be harder to test for accuracy. If the treatment center is biased or the practical evidence does not include a control factor to verify the results, the data presented may not be accurate.
For this reason, and based on the American Educational Research Association’s definition of scientifically sound research, scientific data is the most reliable.
The data gathered from research on addiction, mental illness, and treatment tells us several things. First, addiction is a real, physical condition. Addiction has been shown to cause physical and hormonal changes in the brain and body that disrupt typical pathways and alter mental function. These changes result in a chronic condition that cannot be cured, but that instead has relapse rates similar to those for asthma, type I diabetes, and high blood pressure.
Second, the data shows that addiction can be treated and managed through various means – particularly through behavioral therapies and counseling similar to those used for other mental illnesses. Helping people who are struggling with addiction to understand, recognize, and manage the triggers and cravings that lead them to substance abuse can enable them to change behaviors, avoid relapse, and stay sober.
Finally, the data shows that the treatment types that are most able to help people recover from substance use disorders are those that provide a continuum of care starting with medical detox, proceeding with residential treatment that includes behavioral and psychological therapies and medical support, and continuing with aftercare and ongoing group support. The full spectrum of care is important because some of the strongest indicators that treatment will help someone recover is the length of time the person stays in treatment and the intensity of treatment given.
The best use of addiction and mental health research is in finding ways to prevent and treat disorders and the challenges they present both to the people directly affected by them and society at large. Doctors, psychiatrists, other treatment professionals, and treatment facilities all benefit from using accurate data to improve treatment capabilities and outcomes through practical solutions.
The research can also be used to educate the public about addiction and mental health disorders. There is still a pervasive stigma against those who have problems with substance abuse or mental health disorders. They are often perceived as weak or having some moral flaw, and they can sometimes be dismissed, even by the people who are able to help them. Through education, people can discover the physiological and psychological truths behind mental health and substance use disorders, and how best to prevent them or help those who are struggling with them.