America is living through a crisis — and it’s an enormous one. Today, Americans suffer from exponentially growing rates of obesity and substance abuse. This crisis means that the average person could lose up to 27 years of their life. It marks the first time in history when an older generation is almost guaranteed to outlive a younger one.
It may seem slightly ironic that an epidemic is consuming our nation at the same rate we’re consuming the very food that’s threatening to take our lives away. While our nation was once considered a healthy one, we no longer rank within the top 30 of healthiest nations. In fact, we’re 33rd. So it raises a question: knowing that we all face increased health risks and loss of life due to our nation’s poor habits, what will you do to get those 27 years back?
Over the last 100 years, our eating and exercise habits have changed enormously. Dinners that once consisted of the freshest, healthiest nutrients now contain processed fillers packed with refined sugars and cancer-causing chemicals. Days spent working outdoors have become 16-hour desk marathons. Staring at screens of all sizes is everyone’s go-to pastime. Is it any wonder that obesity, disease, and stress have replaced health — and a healthy perspective — in our lives?
With each passing decade, health professionals learn more about the consequences of living a lifestyle fueled by processed food, stress, and substance abuse. Time-starved adults eat prepackaged and fast foods, and they turn to the false comfort of alcohol and drugs after a hard week. Anxious teens take amphetamines to try and get good grades, only to find themselves addicted to drugs. Kids as young as 10 try inhalants to see what it feels like. Young and old, people are using substances to fill the holes left by living an empty lifestyle.
In the early 20th century, society viewed individuals with addiction as morally deficient or as lacking the willpower to say no. A family member with an alcohol, cocaine, or heroin problem was simply ignored or swept aside. As the century progressed, medical professionals began learning more about addiction. It wasn’t long before exciting discoveries about the nature of substance abuse made the disease treatable and manageable.
For example, we now know that people who have an addicted family member are about 50% more likely to develop addiction themselves. Those who live or spend a lot of time in an environment where alcohol or drugs are readily available are also more likely to develop addiction. Starting drinking or drugs early in life also increases the risk factors of addiction. Finally, having a mental health disorder — especially if it is untreated or undiagnosed — raises the risk of addiction too.
The good news is that recognizing, treating, and managing today’s most damaging health problems is becoming easier than ever before. Making long-term lifestyle adjustments in diet and exercise can produce a fitter-looking physique, improved disease resistance, and a healthier overall attitude. When it comes to substance abuse, early intervention and a commitment to lifelong care can produce the sobriety those who need it seek.
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