Addiction and Substance Abuse

For every $1 spent on addiction treatment, $12 are saved on future social, medical and criminal justice costs. Yet addiction recovery services for low-income and uninsured people are provided primarily by nonprofit treatment centers dependent on funding through competitive grants, private donations and modest payment by patients. These centers are always busy, and patient waiting lists are long.

Tennessee spends about $30 million a year on treatment programs for alcohol and drug addicts. Most of the money comes from federal grants awarded to agencies that compete for them. Agency leaders say that these funds are insufficient and undependable.

Meanwhile, public and private treatment facilities face challenges as private insurance carriers tighten their belts and the state’s TennCare program drops patients from its roster. The trend in treatment overall is toward outpatient services, which are less costly than inpatient treatment. This trend is dictated by insurance company policies and reductions in the number of grants provided for inpatient services. Service providers are understandably concerned about less intense treatment being less effective for some clients.

Addiction increases homelessness, unemployment, and risky sexual behavior according to studies by the Hazelden Foundation. Yet high treatment costs, lack of insurance, and long waiting lists can keep desperately ill people from getting what they most need - treatment.

Exacerbating the issue, negative public attitudes about substance abuse frequently keep addicts from seeking the treatment they so desperately need. While the “disease concept” of addiction is largely shared by treatment professionals, many in the community still consider addiction an emotional weakness or moral failing. Women are especially vulnerable to the social stigma of addiction.

Addiction to drugs and alcohol has been recognized as a disease by the American Medical Association for over four decades. It has a pattern of symptoms which are similar across all types of substance abuse:

  • Addiction is progressive; it only gets worse with continued use.
  • Addiction is a chronic condition; it doesn’t go away.
  • Persons suffering from addiction often relapse.
  • Left untreated, addiction will frequently result in death.
  • Addiction is treatable, and can be arrested at almost any stage.



Everyone is Affected

  • Alcoholism and drug addiction affect roughly ten percent of the population.
  • Addiction affects not only the individual, but everyone around them—family members, employers and co-workers, friends and the community.
  • Addiction takes a tremendous toll on society. The economic costs of substance abuse – to the medical system, justice system, and employers – are estimated at nearly $2 billion annually in the United States.
  • Drinking or drug use is involved in roughly half of all motor vehicle deaths and boating fatalities and is estimate to play a role in at least one-third of suicides.
  • Over 50% of violent crimes involve the use of alcohol and/or drugs.


The Numbers
From the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s 2009 report:

  • 42,130 drug/narcotic violations were reported in Tennessee in 2008.
  • 3,262 drug/narcotic violations resulted in arrests in Tennessee in 2008.
  • Nine homicides in the state in 2008 involved suspected use of drugs by the offender.
  • Cocaine use increased across the state in 2009.
  • About 7% of Tennessee residents report using an illicit drug within the last month.
  • More than 43% report using marijuana occasionally.
  • 533 meth lab incidents in Tennessee were reported in 2008.

From the Davidson County Community Needs Evaluation:

  • Rates of alcohol-related deaths in Davidson County decreased 82.1% from 2004 to 2007.
  • Rates of drug-related deaths in Davidson County increased 17.9% from 2003 to 2007. This rate is 15 times higher than the Healthy People 2010 goal.
  • The average age of first use of alcohol and marijuana among adolescents in Davidson County was 2 and 3 years younger than the Healthy People 2010 goal, respectively.
  • In 2007, the proportion of adolescents who reported marijuana use in the past 30 days was 21.7%, 31 times higher than the Healthy People 2010 goal.
  • The percentage of adolescents who reported smoking cigarettes in the past month was 33.1% higher than the Healthy People objective.


How You Can Help

  • Support area treatment centers and prevention programs so they can offer sliding-scale fees to low-income and uninsured people needing help. Find nonprofits to help at
  • Help change attitudes about addiction in your community through advocacy and public awareness, so addicts will ask for help and enter treatment.
  • Remove barriers to treatment by providing or funding transportation or child care to a recovering addict.
  • Help a local youth steer clear of addiction by becoming a mentor or by supporting neighborhood-based after-school programs or youth centers.
  • Support tobacco prevention and smoking cessation programs.
  • Purchase incidentals not funded by grants and insurance for people in treatment--everything from medicines to diapers to therapeutic supplies.
  • Recommend a friend or family member who might be interested in volunteering.
  • Fund an outing for a treatment center (theater, concert, park) so addicts can experience the joy of life in recovery.
  • Purchase recovery books (i.e. AA Big Book, NA Basic Text or meditation guide) so people leaving treatment have the reading material they need at home.
  • Fund the creation of much-needed treatment programs for adolescents.
  • Support the development of more gender-specific treatment focused on the unique needs of addicted women (stigma, domestic violence, parenting, etc.)
  • Subsidize the development of expanded treatment programs in rural areas, where waiting lists are particularly long



24 Hour Helpline: (615)269-0122

For referral to services you need - United Way 2-1-1

Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services

Federal Access to Recovery program

MethFree Tennessee

Federal Office of Applied Studies links to drug addiction, treatment and recovery topics

Federal study on substance abuse and dependence among women

Federal state by state data on substance abuse

Hazelden online store for recovery materials

Discovery Place

Discovery Place on

Thistle Farms

Thistle Farms on