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Facing Addiction in America, the Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health

Written on: August 1st, 2017 in FamilyHealth and WellnessSubstance Abuse/Addiction

Our Medical Director, Richard Margolis MD, helps us make sense of new information in psychiatry, addiction, and behavioral health. This article summarizes the Facing Addiction in America, a report on alcohol, drugs, and health issued by the Surgeon General.


Facing Addiction in America, the Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health was published last fall. This report provides an extremely thorough and definitive public health report on substance use in America.

The report is organized into 7 chapters that present an overview, a description of the neurobiology of substance use, prevention programs and policies, early intervention/treatment/management, recovery, health care systems, and a vision for the future.

In Chapter 3, Prevention Programs and Policies, risk factors and protective factors are defined. Risk factors are “factors that increase the likelihood of beginning substance use, of regular and harmful use, and of other behavioral health problems associated with use.” Protective factors are “factors that directly decrease the likelihood of substance use and behavioral health problems or reduce the impact of risk factors on behavioral health problems.”

The report explains, “Although there are exceptions, most risk and protective factors associated with substance use also predict other problems affecting youth, including delinquency, psychiatric conditions, violence, and school dropout. Therefore, programs and policies addressing those common or overlapping predictors of problems have the potential to simultaneously prevent substance misuse as well as other undesired outcomes.”

Table 3.1: Risk Factors for Adolescent and Young Adult Substance Use lists individual/peer, family and community risks which are summarized below.


Individual/Peer Risks

o Early initiation of substance use defined as engaging in alcohol or drug use at a young age.
o Early and persistent problem behavior defined as emotional distress, aggressiveness, and “difficult” temperaments in adolescents.
o Rebelliousness defined as high tolerance for deviance and rebellious activities.
o Favorable attitudes toward substance use defined as positive feelings towards alcohol or drug use, low perception of risk.
o Peer substance use defined as friends and peers who engage in alcohol or drug use. 
o Genetic predictors defined as genetic susceptibility to alcohol or drug use.


Family Risks

o Family management problems defined as poor management practices, including parents’ failure to set clear expectations for children’s behavior, failure to supervise and monitor children, and excessively severe, harsh, or inconsistent punishment.
o Family conflict defined as conflict between parents or between parents and children, including abuse or neglect.
o Favorable parental attitudes defined as parental attitudes that are favorable to drug use and parental approval of drinking and drug use.
o Family history of substance misuse defined as persistent, progressive, and generalized substance use, misuse, and use disorders by family members.
o Academic failure beginning in late elementary school defined as poor grades in school.
o Lack of commitment to school defined as when a young person no longer considers the role of the student as meaningful and rewarding, or lacks investment or commitment to school.


Community Factors

o Low cost of alcohol defined as low alcohol sales tax, happy hour specials, and other price discounting.
o High availability of substances defined as high number of alcohol outlets in a defined geographical area or per a sector of the population.
o Community laws and norms favorable to substance use defined as community reinforcement of norms suggesting alcohol and drug use is acceptable for youth, including low tax rates on alcohol or tobacco or community beer tasting events.
o Media portrayal of alcohol use defined as exposure to actors using alcohol in movies or television.
o Low neighborhood attachment defined as low level of bonding to the neighborhood.
o Community disorganization defined as living in neighborhoods with high population density, lack of natural surveillance of public places, physical deterioration, and high rates of adult crime.
o Low socioeconomic status defined as a parent’s low socioeconomic status, as measured through a combination of education, income, and occupation.
o Transitions and mobility defined as communities with high rates of mobility within or between communities.
An understanding and identification of risk factors and protective factors can help guide our prevention, direct care and care management services.


Learn More

You can review the full report, and additional materials on the Surgeon General website, by visiting

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