SUNDAY STIGMA POSTS

September 13, 2020:

Unless you’ve been there, you can’t imagine what it’s like to watch helplessly as someone you love descends into addiction.  The transformation defies logic until you understand your loved one is seriously ill with a brain disease that is devastating and chronic.

When it is left untreated, it is often fatal.  There is an essential reason we must understand addiction as an illness and not just bad behavior.  We punish bad behavior.  We treat illness.  Addicts aren’t weak or amoral, they’re ill.  Once and for all people must understand addiction is a treatable disease.

This isn’t an issue subject to “belief”.  It is based on scientific facts after years of research.  We don’t “believe” cancer is a disease.  We know it is.  Addiction is a disease, whether you “believe” it or not.

September 6, 2020:

Stigma affects every aspect of a person’s life, in ways that are impossible to measure.

Violation of human rights, like being treated with less consideration and respect when seeking medical care and housing. Lack of employment, like losing jobs and difficulty getting jobs, if substance use problems are known.

Negative feelings about themselves from internalizing the negative beliefs of others. Avoiding services in fear of disrespectful treatment. Continuing substance use to cope with other people’s negative attitudes and their own shameful feelings.

Stigma is not just about hurting someone’s feelings. Stigma is about prejudice, discrimination and violating a person’s human rights

August 30, 2020:

Stigma happens when a person defines someone by their illness rather than who they are as an individual. For example, they might be labeled a “junkie” or a “drunk”, rather than a person who has substance use disorder.

Stigma is when someone sees a person in a negative way because of a particular characteristic, such as mental illness, skin color, disability, or addiction. When someone treats a person with addiction in a negative way, this is discrimination.

For individuals with addiction, the social stigma and discrimination they experience can make their problems worse, making it harder to recover. It may cause the person to avoid getting the help they need because of the fear of being stigmatized.

August 23, 2020:

There is pervasive stigma associated with addiction among the general public and institutions, which intensifies for those who are poor and addicted.  For the poor, access to appropriate healthcare services is scarce and hard to find.

For people with money or health insurance, there are a multitude of private drug and alcohol centers that can be afforded.

Public health services are often at capacity with long waiting lists for medical detoxification and treatment.  Hospital emergency rooms often turn away the addicted, with an attitude of “you did this to yourself”, further stigmatizing the disease.

Research suggests the poor have a significantly more difficult time breaking the cycle of addiction.  Removing these societal barriers to recovery  may prevent the cycle from continuing for generations.   Yet, there is no coordinated national effort at reducing the stigma, leaving a tragic gap for this population.

August 16, 2020:

Addiction is only a choice in the beginning.  Science tells us the initial choice to use drugs may turn into an illness if the risk factors are present in the individual.  As drug use increases, addiction is no longer a choice, because the brain’s healthy functioning has been disrupted.

Shame and punishment are simply not effective ways to end addiction.  A person can’t undo the damage drugs and alcohol have done to their brain through sheer willpower.

Like other chronic illnesses, such as heart disease or diabetes, ongoing management of addiction is required for long-term recovery.  This includes treatment, behavioral therapy, medications, peer support and lifestyle modifications.

The science is indisputable.  Addiction is a disease of the brain, not a choice or character flaw.

August 9, 2020:

To some extent genetic inheritance drives differences in how each of us reacts to a substance, and how rewarding it is.  If family members have experienced addiction, the likelihood is other family members will too.

Heritability refers to how much genetic factors account for a person’s propensity to abuse substances.  Scientists measure heritability of addiction in a range between 40 to 70 percent, with variation depending on the substance.

But genetic inheritance does not seal a person’s fate.  Addiction awareness and education can reduce the risk as well as influence the trajectory of substance use problems.  It’s important for everyone in the family to learn the scientific facts about the disease.

August 2, 2020:

Saying addiction is a disease doesn’t mean one is helpless to it; the brain changes associated with addiction can be treated.

The image of an addict’s brain as a fried egg has been promoted in the past, and it’s not accurate. Why? Because a brain can recover and heal, but a fried egg can’t be unfried.

So, while it’s true a brain on drugs can be fried, it’s also true it can become unfried with treatment. It may take a long time depending on the extent of the substance use, but a brain can heal.

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