Stigma toward addiction, in my opinion, is the biggest hurdle that people need to overcome if we want a shot at ending the current opiate and heroin epidemic our Country faces. Stigma is the reason people don’t seek addiction treatment. In their mind the moment they admit to struggling with substance use they will be labeled forever. People end up trying to face it alone with little to no long term success.
The stigma comes from the belief that addiction is not a disease. It’s believed to be a moral failing, a matter of self-control, or that the person suffering just wants to have fun.
The first thing that needs addressing in that statement is that no drug addict is having fun. Nobody wants to be an addict when they grow up, we don’t daydream about becoming one when we are adults either. You either are an addict or you aren’t.
“Addiction isn’t a disease, it’s a choice. You chose to do drugs!”
Most people at some point in their lives made the choice to have a beer at a party, maybe smoke a joint, or do a little line while in a bar or club. If you made one of those choices in your life and you just stopped…awesome! You, my friend, don’t have the disease of addiction. When I made the very same choice you made, I couldn’t stop. I am an addict.
However, I am not a diabetic. I can eat cookies all day and night if I want. Diabetes Type 2 is a disease that starts with a choice too. We also have to remember that not all people with addiction made a choice. Some people were prescribed opiate based pain pills. Once the person, who was always carrying the disease of addiction, gets ahold of that prescription their disease is full blown.
It wasn’t that long ago that I too didn’t believe that addiction was a disease, and I am an addict.
Conquering Drug Addiction Stigma
Stigma was so ingrained in me that I judged myself just as I judged strangers. Once I accepted that I had a disease quitting became possible. It wasn’t about self-control it was about treating a disease that I was diagnosed with, now.
Just like a diabetic has to adjust their lifestyle after learning of their disease I had to do the same. Diabetics no longer can eat sugar once diagnosed and it’s hard for them. Eating poorly is how people with type 2 Diabetes acquired the disease. Just like I acquired the disease of addiction by using drugs and must refrain from their use.
People always say to me, yeah but even after addicts quit they often relapse and see that is proof of choice, really? What does it prove about diabetes when a diabetic relapse?
Relapse Occurs Elsewhere and Not Just Drug Addiction
Yes, Diabetics do relapse. They probably relapse more than people with addiction.
Every time a diabetic stray from the strict diet laid out by their doctor they have just relapsed. Think about it for a moment. We all know someone who is diabetic. Do they follow the strict diet they are supposed to all the time? Every once in awhile do you witness them grab a cookie or eat white bread, all while making some excuse about cheating a little?
That is what happens when an addict relapses. The difference is that the diabetic gets a chuckle out of you and your friend who’s just had a drug relapse gets the judgment. When what should happen is simply support and encouragement to jump right back into recovery. When an addict relapses it’s hard to admit that failure. Diabetics don’t keep track of the last time they ate poorly and wear it as a badge of honor. Imagine if they did. Do you think they would be as likely to steal that cookie in front of you if now they had to tell everyone they were back on day one? No, they wouldn’t. It’s plain and simple.
Stigma keeps family members from reaching out for support, causes the children of addicts to be teased at school if other children find out about their parent. Stigma is the reason that so many people die from addiction instead of finding recovery. Remember the little boy in the 80’s, Ryan White, that was kicked out of school for having HIV? The stigma and fear were so great back then that EMS workers would wear clothes that resembled space suits to care for anyone thought to have HIV. Today things have changed. That all happened because of education and the gay communities hard work to spread the truth about HIV. That is what we have to do for addiction. If you haven’t already get yourself educated about addiction and then educate those closest to you and work yourself outward.
Together we can make a difference…one day at a time.
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