Why all the opium in the world won’t make America happy
© Getty Images
The past 15 years or so have yielded many challenges for the majority of Americans. Many chronic problems have grown substantially, such as economic hardship, unemployment, home foreclosures, malnutrition, physical and mental illness, and the epidemic of addiction. With eroding civil liberties, fake media and systemic corruption, it is miraculous that average Americans can still function.

Squeezed to death

The typical American lifestyle today does not exactly promote health. Multiple part-time jobs do not allow much time for gardening, home cooking, exercise or recreation. Most children are growing up without a full-time caregiver at home. Smartphones are substitutes for interpersonal communication. Air, water and food contain toxins.

ADVERTISEMENT

No wonder half of adults in the U.S. have one or more chronic illnesses. Seven out of 10 Americans take a prescription medication while 1 in 5 Americans take a psychiatric medication.

In 2015, Katherine C. Nordal, Ph.D., the American Psychological Association’s executive director for professional practice, commented in a CBS News article on a poll that suggested rising stress levels in America were primarily related to a lack of money. “Many people still feel very squeezed, just in terms of taking care of their daily needs. We’re still really out of balance in terms of economic improvement trickling down to really help the majority of the population,” she told CBS News.   

People do feel squeezed, perhaps even squeezed to death. Suicide rates went up a shocking 24 percent between 1999 and 2014, with the greatest increase after 2006. Even children are killing themselves. Twice as many children between 10 and 14 years of age committed suicide in the past decade than in previous years.

All the opium in the world

Many are turning to alcohol and drugs to cope with the tremendous stress. The Surgeon General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Vice Admiral Vivek H. Murthy, M.D., M.B.A., recently released a report titled, “Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health.” In his report, Dr. Murthy highlights the importance of improving access to care for the 21 million Americans he conservatively estimates have active substance use disorders.

Alcohol is readily available, aggressively marketed and part of American society. Even though alcohol has been reported to be more dangerous than crack or heroin, it is legal in the U.S. for adults over the age of 21. At least 10 percent (about 32.5 million) of Americans drink too much as of 2014.

The U.S. is also facing an unprecedented opioid epidemic that continues to become more widespread every year, despite Orwellian surveillance, militarized police and the highest incarceration rate in the world. The U.S. really does consume almost all of the world’s opium in the form of prescription opioid painkillers and heroin. One in 112 Americans have an opioid use disorder. Eight percent (24.6 million) were currently using some type of illicit drug(s) as of 2013.

Finding happiness

Of course, alcohol and drugs only cause momentary happiness. Addiction happens insidiously, always to people who think it could never happen to them. Overuse inevitably leads to chemical dependency, depression, anxiety, loss, institutionalization and/or death.

The pursuit of happiness is much more successful when health is a daily priority. Human beings require certain things for mental and physical health. Daily exercise, sleep and good nutrition will go a long way toward feeling well. Spending time outdoors in natural surroundings with at least 15 minutes of sun exposure helps, too. Humans are tribal by nature, so it’s also important to make time to be with others and laugh, vent, problem-solve and help each other maintain a healthy perspective.

Dana Connolly, Ph.D., is a senior staff writer for Sovereign Health, a Joint Commission-accredited behavioral health treatment provider with locations throughout the United States. She earned her Ph.D. in research and theory development from New York University and has decades of experience in clinical care, medical research and health education. Follow us on Twitter.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.