New Data Show Millions of Americans with Alcohol and Drug Addiction Could Benefit from Health Care Reform

WASHINGTON, D.C. — New government data demonstrate the continued, urgent need for more Americans to have access to drug and alcohol addiction treatment, according to an analysis by the Closing the Addiction Treatment Gap (CATG) initiative. If implemented properly, federal health care reform legislation could help remove financial barriers to treatment for millions of Americans.

According to Defining the Addiction Treatment Gap, a CATG review of the annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and other national data sources, addiction continues to impact every segment of American society. 

“Drug use is on the rise in this country and 23.5 million Americans are addicted to alcohol and drugs. That’s approximately one in every 10 Americans over the age of 12 – roughly equal to the entire population of Texas.  But only 11 percent of those with an addiction receive treatment. It is staggering and unacceptable that so many Americans are living with an untreated chronic disease and cannot access treatment,” said Dr. Kima Joy Taylor, director of the CATG Initiative.

“Our society and our health care system have been slow to recognize and respond to addiction as a chronic, but treatable, condition,” said Dr. Taylor.  “While change doesn’t happen overnight, if health care reform is implemented properly, millions of Americans will finally have insurance coverage for addiction treatment.  This is an historic step toward a comprehensive, integrated approach to health care that includes treatment of addiction.”

Defining the Addiction Treatment Gap is intended to provide statistical context for efforts to close America’s addiction treatment gap, including the design of an addiction treatment benefit as part of health care reform implementation.  According to CATG, a number of important factors should be considered: 

  • ­Twenty-three million Americans are currently addicted to alcohol and/or other drugs.  Only one in 10 of them (2.6 million) receives the treatment they need. The result: a treatment gap of more than 20 million Americans.
  • ­Cost and lack of insurance is the primary obstacle cited by Americans who say they need but are unable to receive treatment. Among those able to access treatment, nearly half (48.4 percent) reported using their own money to pay for their care.
  • In contrast to other chronic diseases, funding for addiction treatment disproportionately comes from government sources.  More than three-quarters – 77 percent – of treatment costs are paid by federal, state and local governments, including Medicaid and Medicare.  Private insurance covers only 10 percent of addiction treatment costs, with out-of- pocket expenditures and other private funding making up the remaining percentage.  In contrast, private insurance pays for approximately 37 percent of general medical costs. 
  • Screening and treatment is not integrated into the health care delivery system. Less than seven percent of those receiving treatment were referred by another health provider. In contrast, slightly more than two-thirds of those receiving treatment got there through self-referrals or the criminal justice system. 

Citations for this data, along with a review of current data on addiction and treatment, are available at

“Congress embraced addiction treatment as an essential part of health care reform,” said Gabrielle de la Gueronniere, JD, director for national policy at the Legal Action Center and a member of the CATG initiative. “But federal and state regulators are now tasked with translating and implementing that vision. This may be the single greatest opportunity in our lifetime to make a difference. The costs of untreated addiction are too great to not get this right.”

At the national level, Closing the Addiction Treatment Gap is focused on four key elements that are necessary to maximize the opportunity presented by health care reform:

  1. Developing a meaningful addiction treatment benefit that covers a full continuum of addiction services for both the patient and the patient’s family, as appropriate;
  2. Improving coordination and integration of available services, including wellness and prevention services, screening, intervention, treatment and other supports;
  3. Monitoring implementation to prevent new barriers to treatment, ensure full coverage for and access to appropriate care, including the utilization of strategies and interventions with demonstrated effectiveness; and
  4. Preserving federal and state safety nets to ensure treatment is still available to individuals not covered by health care reform, unable to afford insurance coverage even with subsidies, or with insufficient coverage.  Unfortunately, systemic and societal obstacles continue to prevent many people from seeking addiction treatment.  A number of current government policies result in discrimination – housing, education, health care and employment – against those who disclose a history of addiction. These barriers can hinder the long-term health of those seeking to address an addiction through treatment. Although there has been progress in reducing both the stigma and the discriminatory policies, many people with addiction histories are unable to fully exercise their rights and participation in society.
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    March 20, 2019 at 11:09 PM

    Drugs and alcohol are everywhere. I have a parent who drank liquor daily. He had a nice home, married 3 times, and children who loved him. He continued to drink. Drank himself into a coma. Made me feel like I was the problem. I accepted people in my life who were substance users and abusers. I thought substance use was normal. Luckily the gym and cycling keep me clean. Just wish there were as many beautiful women on the road cycling as I see in the bars. Sometimes I want to join in the grand ol party and gulp a few down myself. Clean and sober isn’t an easy path. It’s a constant battle. Making the situation worse are some employers that create a living hell in the workplace for low income workers. The whole system needs a massive overhaul. Some poor work 70 hour weeks and receive 1 day off a month. The equivalent to modern day slavery. No wonder so many turn to drugs and alcohol for an escape. SAD.

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    December 23, 2018 at 2:31 PM

    you’re argument about providing extra resources to rehab centers to treat drug and alcohol addiction will do nothing to change the statistics. It seems like you’re just looking at the numbers and then suggesting we pump millions of dollars more into treatment centers thinking it will actually motivate addicts to get help.

    A drug user will not to go to rehab if he or she does not want help. Believe me I’ve been down that road more than once. I’ve seen people who had all the resources they needed and they simply stopped going or they refused treatment even when they had their families giving them all the support they needed.

    Trust me you cannot simply start pumping in millions and millions of dollars investing in treatment centers when it will do nothing to help them quit using. There’s very little you can do for addicts. You can encourage them to get help and support them but if they don’t want to get help you can’t make them.

    many addicts believe they don’t have a problem and many believe the problem is with others and not with themselves. I’ve seen drug addiction and offering free treatment or free rehabilitation will do absolutely nothing to change the statistics.

    I know what I’m talking about because I have seen it. I have lived with it. They will not go to rehab or detox centers if they don’t want to you can’t make them get help. and pouring in millions of tax payer money will do nothing to change it. I’ve seen it I have lived with it I know what I’m talking about. I’ve had my heartbroken before after falling in love with an addict and I’ve gotten into abusive relationships because of it.

    Stop thinking that simply handing out money will do anything to solve the problem because it won’t.

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    Stan Robinson

    May 6, 2018 at 5:48 PM

    Very much so and now kids are starting to use heavy drugs as early as 9-years old. How do I know this, I am a certified drug and alcohol counselor and see clients as young as 9!

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    John S.

    April 27, 2017 at 7:00 AM

    Sorry, but I find it very difficult to believe that as many as one in 10 Americans over the age of 12 are addicted to alcohol and/or drugs.

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      July 19, 2017 at 10:48 AM

      Where have you been? That was 10 years ago. The statistics are higher now.

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        March 17, 2019 at 2:43 PM

        Could you give a more recent study? I would like to see what the numbers are now…

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