A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

KHIP: Historic shift in perceptions and most Kentucky adults now believe addiction is a disease

The most recent Kentucky Health Issues Poll (KHIP) found that 7 in 10 Kentucky adults believe that addiction is a disease (70%).  Attitudes towards addiction as a disease were the same both among respondents who have a family member or friend who has experienced problems as a result of heroin use, methamphetamine use, or prescription drug use and among those who did not indicate such firsthand experience with addiction.  KHIP is sponsored by Interact for Health and the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

Findings mark shift in historic perceptions

From the 1930s, when scientists began to study addiction, drug use was portrayed as a moral flaw or resulting from a lack of willpower.1   In recent years, studies of the human brain have radically changed the understanding of substance abuse disorders.  Medical experts now assert that drug use changes the way the brain functions and that these changes can be long-lasting and can lead to harmful behaviors in individuals who use drugs.

In 2016, Kentucky had 1,419 deaths from drug overdose, the fifth-highest rate in the nation, indicating that addiction impacts a large number of people in the Commonwealth, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Adults in the northern areas of the state — including Northern Kentucky (71%) — were more likely to believe addiction is a disease, while adults living in Eastern Kentucky (62%) were less likely.

“Interact for Health is focused on building a community-wide framework to address the opioid epidemic,” says O’dell Moreno Owens, M.D., M.P.H., President and CEO of Interact for Health. “By approaching addiction as a chronic disease, we can reduce stigma for those with substance abuse disorders and begin to build a system that supports recovery.”

Majority believe addiction both physical and psychological disease

KHIP asked those adults who believe addiction is a disease, “Do you believe that addiction is a physical disease, a psychological disease, or both a physical and psychological disease?”

Among Kentucky adults who believe addiction is a disease, 8 in 10 feel it is both a physical and psychological disease (81%). Fewer than 2 in 10 adults believe it is a psychological disease only (17%), and only 1% believe it is a physical disease only.

From Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky

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