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The Stigma Of Drug Addiction

The U.S. needs a multi-pronged approach to drug addiction. (Photo: Pixabay)
The U.S. needs a multi-pronged approach to drug addiction. (Photo: Pixabay)

It’s not secret that we are in the midst of a drug addiction epidemic. You could argue we have been for about the past 15 years. The numbers are staggering and don’t seem to be slowing down. It is estimated that around 21 million Americans suffer from drug addiction, and only about 10% of them receive treatment. Clearly, not enough people are getting the help they desperately need and in turn, they die.

There’s not just one reason for this phenomenon, there are a multitude of reasons. There are not enough facilities in our country to help the millions of people suffering, American healthcare is not a luxury everyone has and finally, there is still a stigma with drug addiction.

To the laymen, if someone is addicted to drugs then they are just weak-willed. They should be able to ‘just stop’. They see a drug-addicted mother who loses her kids and feels no empathy because she brought it on herself. All she needed to do was just quit for her kids? How hard could that be?

For a long time, especially throughout the 20th century, people imagined drug addicts as homeless people who panhandle money and sleep on the streets. It only affected lower-class citizens and it was their fault for being what they were. Once we approached the 21st century, the opiate epidemic hit us in the mid-2000s and all of a sudden pain pills and heroin were majorly impacting the suburbs and mid to upper-class America.

This forced people who viewed drug addicts as homeless panhandling folks to see that addiction does not discriminate. It doesn’t matter what your background is, how good or bad your life is, what your upbringing is, addiction affects absolutely every demographic in a devastating fashion.

How The Stigma Hurts Addicts

For many who grow up with a loving, supportive and successful family, admitting they have a drug problem is inconceivable. To do so would mean complete judgment and embarrassment. It can definitely keep people from admitting they have a problem before it’s too late, they pass away and send shockwaves throughout their family and peers’ lives.

I’ve been sober for nearly 5 years, I’ll never forget the reaction my father had when I told him I had a problem with drugs. He told me, ‘you just need to quit, that’s what I did when I was younger.’. There’s nothing worse than hearing that when admitting you have a problem to someone close to you. They aren’t aware that you have been trying to stop yourself for years and it has been completely impossible.

Fortunately, my dad was a willing participant in my inpatient treatment center and the family program they had. For the most part, when an addict is suffering, it’s most likely the family is suffering too as a consequence of the addict’s lifestyle. Whether it is enabling behaviors, co-dependency from trying to help the addict or blatant resentment and anger towards the one who is addicted to drugs, family members need to recover just like the drug addict must.

The first thing that was important for my father to learn was that drug addiction is a disease, what made sense to him was that I had an allergy to drugs, I reacted to them differently. Addiction is also described as a disease of the mind. Somebody with an addiction problem is a complete and total slave to their mind, no matter how much they want to stop their minds tell them otherwise and the mind always wins. That’s as simple as I can explain it. These ideas are still hard for people who don’t suffer from addiction to understand, thus the stigma still exists.

Many who still partake in the major stigma against addiction haven’t had to deal with somebody close to them suffer from it yet. Once a family member or close friend does, they are able to see the slow deterioration and complete and utter struggle it is to try and get clean.

So what can be done? We need to educate more, when I try to describe why I was a drug addict to people I know and why I couldn’t stop, it’s hard to put into words. I did want to stop, but as I mentioned, my mind had complete control of me and always told myself to go and use anyways. It wasn’t until I went to treatment and went through a 12 step process that I was able to separate myself from my sick mind and let someone else do my thinking for me. Under strict guidance and not listening to my own ideas I was able to maintain sobriety.

Here are some resources for those inclined to educate themselves more:

Havard Health Article On Understanding Addiction and the Brain

Article On Why Drug Addicts Can’t ‘Just Quit’

Biology Of Addiction

If you are somebody unfamiliar with drug addiction, I challenge you to challenge your own beliefs, find it in yourself to empathize with those who are suffering from it as sick people, because they are very sick. Sometimes all a person suffering from addiction needs is to know they have support from their friends and family, that can be a great motivator for them to go get help.

Do your best to change the stigma, today.

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