Report Cites Alcoholism, Mental Disorders Medical System Fails Some; Society Pays Price

By 1996, The Washington Post | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), November 24, 1996 | Go to article overview
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Report Cites Alcoholism, Mental Disorders Medical System Fails Some; Society Pays Price


1996, The Washington Post, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


In 1784, Benjamin Rush, the Continental Army's surgeon general, pioneered the view that alcoholism is a medical rather than a moral problem. Now the nation appears to have come around slowly to his view.

As a result, the task of dealing with substance abuse and mental disorders has fallen increasingly on the health system, according to a report released Wednesday by the Institute of Medicine, a nonprofit group chartered by the National Academy of Sciences.

The report estimates that: 52 million Americans age 15 to 54 have "behavioral" health problems, some extremely serious. 32 million have mental disorders such as schizophrenia, anxiety or depression. 12 million have substance-abuse problems such as alcoholism or drug addiction. 8 million have mental and substance-abuse problems. Yet only half the adults with these problems get treatment, and others are treated erratically. As a result, the study found, the costs to society in terms of lost income and medical bills are high - on a par with costs for cancer or heart disease. In 1990, for example, abuse of alcohol, drugs and nicotine cost the nation $257 billion, partly in medical bills but mainly in loss of earnings through early death or inability to work, and in related costs from accidents and crime. Mental disorders cost another $148 billion, in medical bills and lost revenues from inability to work. The report is one of many that the Institute of Medicine puts out each year, all on some aspect of health.

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