Recently, I head people arguing whether a substance use disorder is a disease or not. I wanted to respond, but those arguing it was not a disease were so adamant I knew this was an argument I would not win. I find it hard to believe there are people who believe a substance user disorder is not a disease, but a ‘moral failing’, and that people choose that lifestyle because they are weak and can’t control themselves.
A substance use disorder IS a disease, NOT a moral failing. Substance Users are not weak. They are people like everyone else. They have families, jobs, and could be our neighbor or friend.
I believe the reason people feel a substance use disorder is not a disease is the STIGMA attached to people struggling with it. Stigma is a major barrier a substance user needs to overcome to receive help. They don’t want their employers to find out they are going into treatment for fear of losing their jobs. They are reluctant to share their use with their family due to the shame it might bring them.
We need to do more to end the stigma that surround people with a substance user disorder. We need to take down barriers so all who wish will seek recovery and lifesaving treatment. Their families need to find recovery as well. Substance Use IS a family disease, and all are impacted by the insanity that occurs with the substance user’s behaviors.
There are a few things we can do to end the stigma:
1. Reach out, let families know they are not alone. Others have been through this before. There is no shame admitting your family member is actively using or is in recovery. Families in this crisis feel isolated and ashamed. Parents feel they have failed, and have tremendous guilt and shame. This is a family disease, everyone is affected, and there are resources they can use as well.
2. Support treatment programs, either financially, with material donations, or your time and expertise.
3. Be an advocate for people fighting the disease. They need our support, and taking down barriers will increase their chance of successful recovery.
4. Help your community see that substance use is everywhere. Local papers are quick to publish the latest DUI, but overdoses or people entering treatment are not newsworthy. Substance use does not care about race, religion or socioeconomic status. Overdoses occur under the radar, and we need to educate the doubters so they see this is a serious public health issue.
Ending the stigma about substance use and recovery will not be easy. The more we talk about it, educate and spend time with community outreach, the more people will see that this is a health issue 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.
They are in the corner of our eye.
People that come and go, in and out of our lives.
We may not see them every day, or even think about them more than once a month, or sometimes even less.
But they are always there, hanging on the peripheral of our daily activities.
We often forget about them, but then something happens that brings them back into focus.
Perhaps it is a memory, or a picture we see, or something they post on Facebook.
Or we see them at a wedding, or at the store and we are polite and make promises to get together.
Maybe we get a “hey, ‘what’s new, how are you” text.
And then we find out what has been going on in their lives, while they have not been part of ours.
And we find out that they are sick, or lost their job, or their mom has passed, or their kid did something great or perhaps got into some trouble.
And we weren’t part of it, or there to help them, to comfort them, to help get them through it.
And we feel horrible about it.
Not because we weren’t there, but because we were too busy to be there.
And then we feel guilty, and bad, and lament that so much time has passed.
Because it is not that hard to keep in touch with the people that mean something to us.
No matter how peripheral they may be.
A quick email, a quick text, a quick call.
Hey, how are you? Hope all is well. Let’s meet for lunch, dinner, coffee.
No pressure. Just a quick connect, let them know that they still mean something to you.
We should all do it before it’s too late.
Some days just don’t work, like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. No matter how hard you try, things just don’t fit together.
You have a busy Saturday with errands to run, appointments to keep, and kids’ activities to watch or drive to, and suddenly you realize it is not humanly possible to do be in two places at once. You try to figure it all out, but sometimes a problem will seem so insurmountable that it will ruin the carefully planned dance of the day.
The only way to make things work sometimes is to either find a new peg or a new hole, or reshape the edges of one so they fit together. Easier said than done, but sometimes moving things around in your life makes things fit together better and will help restore our sanity.
Thankfully, most problems have a solution. You may not like it, but a solution can always be found.
I was at my dad’s the other day to change one of his high ceiling light bulbs. Nobody wants their 80 something dad climbing a ladder, trust me. We started to talk about a trip they were planning. As senior citizens a drive to Boston is not made without careful planning. Where to eat, where to pee, did we remember the hearing aids, things like that. Each transportation mode (driving, and who drives and how far, train, etc) have positive and negative aspects, and potential problems and pain points are all over the place. As we discussed the possibilities I realized that each stumbling block had a solution, which I carefully placed in front of him, until he agreed there was no reason why they couldn’t go to Boston via one of the many ways we discussed.
Sometimes things just don’t fit together. But with a little sandpaper, reshaping of plans, and a willingness to compromise we can make the square pegs and the round holes fit together nice and neatly.