Stigma Causes Many to Not Receive Help for Addiction

No other disease/medical condition suffers so much from lack of intervention and possible cure as does addiction. The public thinks, “Why don’t they just quit using?” That is what addiction looks like from the outside. From the inside (I am a recovering alcoholic) what it feels like is that I can’t quit using because–(million reasons). Because addiction solves one main cause of addiction. It works. It blocks out the pain of being a worthless failure (the pain inside the addict).

It has taken me 43+ years in addiction recovery to become the person God created. I grew up in a home controlled by alcoholism–first my father’s and then mine. I was the oldest child so I became the family savior. What a burden as well as what a gift. I was also blessed with depression. The blessings come from unlearning the maladaptive emotional patterns I chose to fight the pain of not being able to save my family. I can only save me.

Stigma happens from the people who are already in recovery as well as people who aren’t in recovery.

(1) To others in recovery–From What…Me Sober?: “Outside Issues (Tradition 10)”:

“The long form of Tradition Ten reads as follows:

10 — No A.A. group or member should ever, in such a way as to implicate A.A., express any opinion on outside controversial issues–particularly those of politics, alcohol reform, or sectarian religion. The Alcoholics Anonymous groups oppose no one. Concerning such matters they can express no views whatever. [Emphasis mine.]

I have to wonder why there are still people, old-timers included, who don’t get that “outside issues” means things such as the above, not matters that bear directly on sobriety. Are we here to make smokers, overeaters, benzo users and others comfortable, or to make newcomers welcome and support everyone’s recovery?

I’m inclined to think that some of these issues make some members really nervous, and that’s the reason for their objection to discussion of other addictions. As we all (should) know, substitute addictions are one of the most common by-products of abstinence from any “primary” addiction.”

(2) To those not in recovery–From This Bipolar Brat: “Let’s Talk About: Addiction & Stigma”:

“Stigma is a petty little creature lurking behind every person who struggles with mental illness on a daily basis and anyone who has struggled with addiction.

The media portrays addicts as junkies laying in a gutter, women selling their bodies for sex, men violent on intoxication. Addicts are depicted as bodies with no depth and no self control.

We’re dismissed in society. “Just another addict.” But we are so much more than that. We are human beings. We are someone’s child, someone’s loved one, someone’s best friend. We are complex human beings with emotions that drive us to drugs in the first place.

Addiction is more than lacking self control. Addiction is an undiagnosed mental illness and self medicating. Addiction is pain.

Behind every addict is someone hurting, someone is screaming for help, someone is drowning.

Truth is, everyone is susceptible to addiction, from that first drink of vodka when you were 14 to the first time you bought a scratch ticket.

Don’t give up on an addict. Recovery is possible. I’m living proof of that. I grew up with parents that shot up meth. I promised myself everyday that I wouldn’t be like them. I experimented but meth was far from my mind.

I was 22 and the opportunity presented itself. My exact thoughts were: I wanna know what’s so great about this drug that my parents chose to destroy my family over.

For years I would smoke on the weekends for fun, for energy, for the rush that mimicked my hypo-mania. Then one day I picked up the pipe to avoid the constant physical pain forming in my body from the fibro and to fight the mental pain clouding me everyday from bipolar disorder.

It felt like the answer, it felt like the cure. In the long run, it made my world worse. I was as functioning addict for years. I even became store manager under the influence of the dope pipe. Internally, I was falling apart.

But on June 1st, I’ll have been sober for 3 years. The mantra “one day at a time” is the truest string of words you’ll hear during the road to recovery.

I have my parents to thank for my recovery. They saw the signs, they had been down the same road. I have my boyfriend to thank for my recovery.”

3. From William White (make him one of your regular reads): “Stigma-Busting: Sharing the Good News of Recovery at a Professional Level”:

“Below are some stigma-busting responses to such comments.

Comment: “That must be very difficult [or distasteful/depressing/dangerous] work.” (Code for: “Alcoholics and addicts, as bad people doing bad things, are morally disreputable and dangerous.”)

Response: Actually, working with individuals and families affected by alcohol and other drug problems is very rewarding. Many of the people I work with are bright, attractive, and engaging. They represent people from very diverse backgrounds and life stories. I enjoy guiding and observing people regain health and happiness. I also like working within a team of very competent and committed service professionals. Many of those I work with have suffered multiple and quite severe problems, but I continue to be in awe of their persistence and resilience in rebuilding their lives. I could make more money and have more professional status doing other things, but I don’t think I would love doing them as much as what I do now. I would not trade what I do for anything. The most difficult part of what I do is not the people I work with but the community resource limitations and the paperwork and other administrative red tape that can demand so much of my time.

Comment: “But what about all the treatment failures and deaths I read about?” (Code for: “Why would you work in an area in which success is so rare?”)

Response: Such losses are horrible and personally painful, but they are an inevitable part of working within any sector of healthcare. But most importantly, addiction-related deaths among those I work with are the exception. Far more common are individuals and families who positively transform their lives and express their gratitude for the help that we have been able to provide them. And what we do through our harm reduction, treatment, and recovery support activities reduces the incidence of such deaths. The deaths that do occur provide an opportunity to recommit myself to improving the accessibility and quality of the services we as a field are able to provide, particularly services that help keep people alive until they achieve stable recovery.

Comment: “I guess what you do would be valuable even if you only help one person.” (Again code for: Recovery is the exception to the rule—a miracle; “once an addict, always an addict.”)

Response: If only one person was helped by my organization, we would have to seriously re-evaluate our treatment approaches. There are more than 23 million Americans who once experienced alcohol or other drug problems who have resolved these issues. In treatment, we deal primarily with the most severe and complex of these problems, but the vast majority of people seeking our help will recover, sometimes after multiple efforts. It is a great feeling to be a critical link within this healing process. And we have the opportunity in addiction treatment to see very sick individuals and families get well and go on to achieve significant levels of social contribution. Many of the men and women I work with get better than well.

Photo credit.

One comment

  1. Addicts and those with mental health issues both get some of the same comments. It takes someone who has been there to get it. Each of us who has had problems are meant to reach out to others and share their pain and aid their recovery.

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