addiction & recovery

Fighting The Stigma Of Addiction & Recovery

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I recently stumbled upon a Facebook thread of a friend of a friend in which two people were arguing about whether addiction is truly a disease or just people being lazy about not wanting to change.  I had to hold myself in check because I wanted to chime in on the side of “yes, it is a disease” but the person arguing it was not a disease was so adamant about it that I knew I would be entering an argument I would not win, and it would only make me upset.

I find it hard to believe that in our educated age there are still people who believe addiction is not a disease, but a “moral failing” and that people choose to be addicts or they are weak and cannot control themselves.  Even though there is overwhelming evidence and research results that prove addiction is a disease, there are still some people that don’t believe it.

Fact:  Addiction IS a disease, not a moral failing.  Addicts are not weak, they are not derelicts.  They are people like everyone else.  Most of them have families, jobs, and most of us know people who are suffering from this disease, but we just don’t know it.

I believe, as do many others, that part of the reason people fee that addiction is not a disease is the STIGMA that is still attached to people that struggle with addiction.  This stigma is real, and it is one of the major barriers that a substance abuser needs to overcome so they can seek help for their problem.  Addicts don’t want their employers to find out they are going into treatment for fear of losing their jobs, and they are often afraid of sharing this problem with their family members because of the shame it might bring their family.

We as a society need to do MUCH more to end this stigma.  To convince people that addiction is a disease, and that those who want help deserve it.  We need to work towards taking down the barriers so addicts will seek recovery and life saving treatment and make sure their families seek their own recovery as well.  Addiction is a family disease, and everyone is dragged down the rabbit hole of the insanity that the addict surrounds themselves with.

Ending the stigma that surrounds addiction and recovery is not an easy task, but there are a few things that each of us can do to help:

  1.  Be the voice for those in need.  Speak out, let families in the midst of the disease know they are not alone, that there are others out there just like them that have been through this before, survived the trauma, and came out on the other side. There is no shame admitting that your family member is actively using or is in recovery.  The more people know, the more they will see that this happens to families just like themselves.
  2. Support substance abuse treatment programs, either financially with donations of money, food, clothing, or better yet, your time and expertise.  Help by being an advocate for those in need, even if it is just mailing a letter or making a phone call asking for help or finding out about transportation.  People in recovery need all of the help they can get, and taking down the walls that prevent them from a full life will increase their chance of successful recovery.
  3. Help a family in need.  When a family has a member in the midst of an addiction crisis they feel alone, ashamed, and isolated.  Parents of addicts feel they have failed as a parent, and have tremendous guilt and shame.  Reach out to them, let them know they are not alone, and let them know there are resources not only for the addicts but for themselves as well.  Addiction is a family disease, and the abuse effects everyone close to the addict.
  4. The War On Drugs has failed.  The drugs are winning, and we therefore need to stop punishing addicts as criminals and treat them as if they have any other disease.  Many communities are already doing this, and this effort has to increase.
  5. Finally, we need to somehow convince our communities that addiction is all around them.  The local papers are quick to publish the latest DUI, but overdoses and people entering treatment do not make the news.  Most people in a community do not realize that addiction is all around them, that people are suffering, and these people may be their neighbors, the cashier at the grocery store, or even the lawyer down the street.  Addiction does not care about the color of your skin or your socioeconomic status.  Overdoses are now occurring at alarming rates under the radar (except for the families involved), and those people within a community that do not feel there is a problem around them are not facing reality.  Addiction does not discriminate and can affect any family member that is prone to the disease. We need to educate the doubters so they see this is a health issue, so everyone can help people in recovery find the solutions they need to save their lives.

Ending the stigma about addiction and recovery will not be easy.  But the more we talk about it, the more we educate, the more time we spend with community outreach, the more our communities will begin to see that addiction is a health issue, and that affects everyone in the community.  Lessening the stigma will allow individuals and families suffering from this disease to find the help they need, and see that true recovery is not just a possibility, but a reality.