April 18, 2021
The stigma surrounding addiction leads to guilt and shame, causing people to hide or minimize their addiction and prevent them from getting the treatment they need.
To help stop perpetuating the stigma of addiction, here are three simples things you can do.
- Get to know more.
Just like heart disease impacts the heart, addiction results in physiological changes in the brain. Causes of addiction can be extremely complex and vary by the type of addiction. Understanding how and why addiction occurs can help reduce the stigma surrounding it.
- Talk about it.
Discussing addiction helps humanize the disease and shows recovery is possible. If you notice signs of substance abuse, say something. Choose your words carefully and avoid hurtful language.
- Show compassion.
People with addiction need help and support, not scorn and shame. Remember, addiction is an illness and not something that should cause shame. It is best to communicate with care and compassion.
April 11, 2021
I finished the Ken Burn series “Hemingway” this weekend on PBS. The six-hour documentary riveted me. It’s one of those stories that sticks with you.
The story interested me on many different levels, but for this post what interested me was seeing the progression of his alcoholism and mental illness throughout his life. He said he started drinking when he was 15.
He had the disease’s risk factors; early use, being traumatized by the suicide of his father and the ongoing bad relationship with his mother, whom he didn’t talk to after he left home at 17. He had difficulty with depression and anxiety his whole life. He self-medicated from a young age. He also had several head injuries over the years.
In the third part of the series, it is mentioned how everyone knew his drinking was a real problem, but they tiptoed around the issue. He went to the Mayo Clinic for his psychosis and depression, but told everyone it was for for his high blood pressure. The doctors let him drink wine while he was there.
It was because of the stigma he didn’t receive help sooner. His 4th wife lived with the worst of it and took care of him. He had difficulty writing by then. She found him after he committed suicide by shooting himself.
It’s another tragic ending to a brilliant man’s life because of addiction and mental illness.
March 28, 2021
In the past, stigma has limited financial support for research into addiction and limited access to evidence-based treatments. Thus addiction carries a relatively poor prognosis, which reinforces its stigma.
Many people think those afflicted with addiction can’t get well, but with proper treatment, most can and do recover. The afflicted who manage to find a good program may find it impossible to pay for it.
In spite of ACA provisions that require insurance companies to cover mental illness, including substance-use disorders, in parity with other diseases, it’s rare that plans pay fully for needed treatments.
Good publicly funded programs are mostly full and people have to wait, although that seems to be changing some. Medicaid does provide coverage for substance abuse and mental health services, but not all addiction treatment centers accept Medicaid as a form of payment.
As a result, few of the addicted get the long-term, comprehensive care they need. And by the time they seek treatment, if they do, they’re usually in crisis, which makes it more difficult and expensive to treat them.
March 21, 2021
What is the difference between a passion and an addiction?
“The difference between a passion and an addiction is very simple. A passion is something that you love, that excites you and makes you feel alive, but it doesn’t control you. In most cases, it doesn’t cause negative consequences.
If it causes negative consequences and you still continue, then you are a slave to it and that means you are an addict. Healthy passion is an expression of vitality and energy and beauty. In contrast, an addiction always carries negative consequences.
From the outside, you cannot necessarily tell whether someone’s being passionate or someone’s being addicted because they could be pursuing the same behavior. One could be doing it because there is a hole in their soul that they’re trying to fill, while the other might be doing it out of sheer love and commitment.
It’s the internal impact that tells you whether it’s constructive or destructive, whether it’s passion or addiction.
My definition of addiction is any behavior that a person finds pleasure or relief in and craves, but suffers negative consequences and can’t give up.”
“The Fix” Interview with Dr. Gabor Mate on 12/12/17
March 14th, 2021
In her TV interview with Oprah, Meghan Markle opened up about her life as a duchess, which included depression and thoughts of suicide, while she was pregnant with her son.
She asked for help, to “go somewhere”, but the Royal family declined her request saying it wouldn’t look good – the optics would be bad. A cry for help should never be met with anything but compassion, support, urgency, and resources.
The taint of stigma associated with suicide knows no social class. It’s the same ignorance, misunderstanding, fear, shunning, and avoidance at the root of stigmatization, and these factors inflict immense pain and suffering on those who are perceived as “not normal” or “weak”.
Suicide, addiction, and depression have a very close and interconnected relationship. More than 90% of people who fall victim to suicide suffer from depression, or have a substance use disorder, or both.
Sharing stories openly – vulnerably – as Meghan did, can break down the stigma. Her story may have just saved countless lives, no matter her critics.
March 7, 2021
When you wonder what would make someone an addict, you might think, ‘if a person gets substantial pleasure from smoking or drinking, then they’d do it more’. This is completely reasonable.
But it’s completely wrong. The genetic variations that predispose a person to being an addict seem to be mutations that dampen the dopamine system.
This can be any number of variations – dopamine synthesizing enzymes, transporters, or receptors. A normal person can go to the tavern and have a couple of drinks for an effect, but a friend who has an addiction risk has to have ten to get to the same place.
In this way, it’s not that people who are at higher risk for addiction derive more pleasure from their substance – it may be that they derive less. But the drive to get there is huge. At least 40-60% of the risk factors of addiction are due to predisposed brain chemistry.
February 28, 2021
There are about 21.5 million people in the U.S. who have substance use disorders, and estimates are that for every one of them at least five family members and/or friends are negatively impacted in a variety of ways, one of which is the negative impact of stigma.
Research shows that family members are often blamed as the cause of the problem. They suffer in silence as they hear people talk about substance users—people they love and care for— in derogatory ways.
They often agonize about the impact of gossip, “What will people think?” and “How will our family be treated?” and doubt themselves. Parents of children using substances are perhaps hit the hardest as they often think, “Maybe I am a bad parent.”
Unfortunately, all of this internalized stigma and shame lead to a reluctance to ask for support in helping their loved one.
February 21, 2021
Many people believe that people with substance use disorder are violent and dangerous, when in fact most are more at risk of being attacked or harming themselves than harming other people.
Stigma and discrimination worsen someone’s substance use problems, and delay or impede their getting help and treatment and their recovery.
Social isolation, poor housing, unemployment and poverty are all linked to addiction. So stigma and discrimination can trap people in a cycle of illness.
Media reports often link addiction with violence, or portray people with substance use disorder as dangerous, criminal, evil, or disabled and unable to live normal, fulfilled lives.
This is far from the case. There are many recovered substance users living full lives contributing positively to society every day. It’s time to change these stereotypes.
February 14, 2021
Happy Valentine’s Day!
It’s a good day to challenge the stigma about addicts and love.
My experience is that most substance users are compassionate and extraordinarily loving human beings. They exude empathy and exhibit extreme sensitivity, only to pay the price by coping through addictions.
When they feel too much, including their own or another’s pain, they tend to self-medicate. If they don’t know how to manage this sensory overload, they numb themselves to shut off their thoughts and feelings.
They are deeply loving and empathetic souls, who have lost the ability to feel comfortable in the midst of overwhelming sensitivity to everything going on around them. The more they run from their sensitivities, the more uncomfortable they get, and the more they want to self-medicate.
The truth is most of those who struggle with addiction are loving and sensitive to a fault. Awareness is liberating. No shame. No blame. No stigma.
February 7, 2021
Here are some suggestions for reducing the stigma of addiction:
-Educate people, including students, health care and other professionals, as well as the general public.
-Highlight the reasons people develop problems with substance use.
-Address media biases and inaccuracies.
-Personalize substance use problems.
-Have people who have experienced substance use problems and the related prejudice and discrimination speak or write about it.
-Use well-known spokespeople to raise awareness that substance use problems can affect anyone.
-Show that people with substance use problems come from a variety of backgrounds.
-Show the positive face of people with substance use problems rather than the negative.
-Show the ways in which individuals in recovery contribute to society.
Why is it that when a child is struggling with substance use, their parents feel like “bad parents” rather than “pillars of strength” supporting a child through a life-threatening struggle?
Why does a child of someone struggling with substance use feel the profound need to hide and overcompensate for their parent instead of being able to ask for help?
Although progress is made everyday in the field of drug addiction, addiction-related stigmas are still prevalent in our society. Even in the face of scientific evidence, some still feel addiction is merely a character flaw, a moral failing and a reflection of the household.
Instead of blaming families as part of the problem, families should be seen as sources of strength and understanding, and valued as key motivators of change.
January 24, 2021:
Did you know that people struggling with substance use are 6 times more likely to commit suicide? In fact, substance use disorder is the second-highest risk factor for suicide.
Depression is number one risk factor, and the rate of major depression among those with substance use disorders is 2-4 times higher than the general population.
What’s more, about 1/3 of the people who die from suicide are under the influence of drugs. Why is this tragedy so prevalent among those suffering from addiction?
Because they become overwhelmed with emotions like hopelessness, regret, defeat, unhappiness, and loneliness and feel like they cannot overcome them. They feel shame about their substance use that keeps them from opening up to others. Wrapped in a world of hurt, they feel all alone. They feel like no one can understand their pain.
Please know there is always hope. Treatment for substance use can be found and help is available through the national suicide lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
January 17, 2021:
Most people who struggle with substance use feel in control when they drink or use. Most non-addicts feel out of control when they drink or use. Putting one’s life at risk by ingesting copious amounts of drugs or alcohol is not a symptom of someone who is in control.
Many, many times they try to stop and fail. Addiction is hell for the person caught up in it and the family who loves them. So why do some people become addicted, while others can take it or leave it?
If you’re genetically predisposed to this illness (meaning addiction runs in your family), scientists say your brain chemistry will change upon introduction. Once the brain has been chemically altered by addiction, the person loses the power of choice and control of their behavior.
Nobody wakes up and says, “I’m going to be an addict.” Left to choice, no one would ever choose to live like this. The trouble is, the addicted person isn’t in their right mind, so they run out of options or families may step in and intervene.
January 10, 2021:
Change doesn’t always happen as quickly as we want and it can be messy. Even when people say repeatedly that they don’t want to or simply can’t change, they do all the time, even in the face of long odds.
Why? Because change becomes worth it to them! The pain of continuing what they are doing and the benefits of changing begin to outweigh the benefits of continuing to use and the pain of changing.
Many people recover from terrible substance use problems when the change becomes worth it to them. Part of helping people change is helping them want to change. If you give people the right encouragement, stay connected to them, respect their right to be part of the solution, and keep your balance by taking care of yourself and setting healthy limits(this is the key), things can get better.
Self-care is a skill you can’t afford to ignore, so that you don’t go down with the sinking ship, however heroic that may seem.
Some of the content from this post was taken from the book “Beyond Addiction”.
January 3, 2021:
The COVID-19 pandemic is fueling the opioid crisis. National data suggests U.S. drug overdose deaths are on track to reach an all-time high in 2020.
Addiction experts blame the pandemic, which has left people stressed and isolated, disrupted treatment and recovery programs, and contributed to an increasingly dangerous illicit drug supply.
Synthetic opioids, primarily illicitly manufactured fentanyl, appear to be the primary driver of the increases in overdose deaths, increasing 38.4 percent from the 12-month period leading up to June 2019 compared with the 12-month period leading up to May 2020.
Overdose deaths involving cocaine also increased by 26.5 percent. Based upon earlier research, these deaths are likely linked to co-use or contamination of cocaine with illicitly manufactured fentanyl or heroin.
Overdose deaths involving psychostimulants, such as methamphetamine, increased by 34.8 percent. The number of deaths involving psychostimulants now exceeds the number of cocaine-involved deaths.
The increase in overdose deaths highlights the need for essential services to remain accessible for people most at risk of overdose and the need to expand prevention and response activities. No one should die because help doesn’t come in time.
This information is from the CDC’s press release dated 12/17/20 titled “Overdose Death Rates Accelerating During COVID-19”.
December 20, 2020:
Addiction doesn’t just affect the person, it affects the entire family. Friends and family members of addicts often feel confused, frustrated, angry, worried, and helpless.
The family of the addict is often unable to see the true cause of the family problems. Sometimes the addiction is a major secret and families live in an atmosphere of shame, tension, and fear. Often they have lost the ability to communicate or have meaningful relationships with each other.
It is important for the entire family to be involved in a person’s treatment, so that everyone can get well, learn how to communicate in a positive manner, establish healthy relationships, and recover together.
December 13, 2020:
People who have an addiction are often looked down upon and blamed for their addiction, rather than being seen as people who are ill and in need of medical care. Removing the stigma around addiction is one of the first steps to addressing this growing problem.
The fact is 20.5 million American adults aged 12 and older are battling a substance abuse disorder. Yet despite this staggering number, the stigma of addiction persists.
The stigma can easily prevent persons from seeking help from family, friends and healthcare providers. Only 1 in 10 people receive treatment for their addiction.
Ultimately, the stigma surrounding addiction can lead to guilt and shame, causing people to hide their addiction and prevent them from getting the treatment. The first step is to admit there is a problem and seek treatment.
December 6, 2020:
We are committed to challenging the stigma, stereotypes and pessimism associated with drug and alcohol addiction with these Sunday stigma posts.
The hidden reality is that people actually do recover from drug and alcohol addiction. It is possible with the right treatment plan and an individual’s readiness to recover.
It’s a chronic disease that can be successfully managed and it affects individuals who are every bit as moral, productive, intelligent, talented, and humanly flawed as the next person.
Addiction stigma prevents too many people from getting the help they need. Many of the negative, stigmatizing behavioral symptoms associated with the disease tend to diminish when appropriately addressed and managed in recovery.
November 29, 2020:
Stigma forbids children from bringing friends home after school for fear of embarrassment. It forces a child to cover for a parent, lie to others and make excuses to hide from society’s watchful eye.
It is important to make sure children are aware of their boundaries and where their responsibilities end and to know they aren’t responsible for their parent. They can’t control the behavior and need to know they didn’t cause it and that it’s not their fault.
School programs to address addiction generally target high school students – an age too old. Instead, more programs should reach out to children in elementary school, who may already be dealing with a parent who suffers from addiction.
This dysfunctional pair, addiction and stigma, demand all the attention until eventually, the family’s children become invisible.
November 22, 2020:
In 12-Step groups, there is a saying “you’re only as sick as your secrets”. Shame is a powerful force. It’s the biggest factor in perpetuating stigma.
It can undermine you by making you feel unlovable. It can be exploited by others to manipulate you. But shame’s power is completely dependent on secrecy.
As soon as the secret is let out, the blinds are opened, and the burden of shame lightens. It’s a powerful move to shatter the secrecy and expose the truth rather than let it fester within you and undermine your self-esteem.
Telling your secrets is scary, but liberating and often not nearly as hard as imagined, especially in a 12-Step or other support group of like-minded people, where it’s safe.
November 15, 2020:
Don’t let stigma create self-doubt and shame. Stigma doesn’t just come from others. You may mistakenly believe that your condition is a sign of personal weakness or that you should be able to control it without help.
Seeking help, educating yourself about your condition and connecting with others who have the disease of addiction or codependency issues can help you gain self-esteem and overcome destructive self-judgment.
Judgments almost always stem from a lack of understanding rather than information based on facts. Learning to accept your condition and recognize what you need to do to treat it, seeking support, and helping educate others can make a big difference
November 8, 2020:
Many folks are elated and many are angry at the results of the election. It would have happened with either outcome, because we are so divided.
In having had to deal with an outcome I never wanted or asked for in my life with the death of my son, I urge both sides toward acceptance. Don’t assume a conservative person is a deplorable or that a liberal person is a socialist. Neither of these are true.
Just like an addict is not always a loser, neither is a codependent always a righteous witch. Humans and humanity are much more complicated than these stereotypes. We often live in this alternate universe of stigmatizing what we don’t understand or don’t want to understand, based on our own life experiences and influences. We never want to step outside of the box we put ourselves in.
If you really want change, whatever that might be, you must act on it and be it. It’s in the example of how you live your life that people will be attracted to your point of view. It’s in how you show up for your own beliefs and values that people will see who you are and be inspired by it.
It’s in the actions you take, not in the words you say. It’s in how you live your everyday life that represents your values. Be the change you want to see in the world. I’ve always loved Gandhi’s take on it and it rings true today.
November 1, 2020:
The cancer survivor is proud, but those in recovery from addiction face stigma and discrimination, causing them to have feelings of guilt and shame. People in recovery are often faced with ongoing obstacles.
Important aspects of everyday living, which are so critical to a stable recovery from substance use disorder, such as employment, housing, and providing for one’s family, are much harder to find and sustain for an addict. Having struggled with the disease of addiction in the past should not make life more difficult.
Recovery from addiction should be treated with the same level of dignity as recovery from cancer, because they are both diseases, according to science. Addiction is a complex brain disorder that changes behavior.
October 25, 2020:
Addiction stigma prevents too many people from getting the help they need. Many of the negative, stigmatizing behavioral symptoms associated with addiction tend to diminish when appropriately addressed and managed in recovery.
Alcohol and drug addiction are traditionally considered a private matter, something only whispered about. Even when the symptoms of the disease are obvious to all around, individuals and families often avoid seeking help for fear of even acknowledging the problem.
This is one reason only one in 10 Americans with a substance use disorder receives professional care for addiction.
Sunday, October 18, 2020:
Stigma affects all of us and nearly everyone has felt stigmatized or has stigmatized others at some point in their lives.
In a recent study done by Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, the general public was more likely to have negative attitudes towards those dealing with drug addiction than those who were dealing with mental illness. Becoming dependent on drugs can happen to anyone. It’s important to keep in mind that we can all do a better job of decreasing stigma around drug use.
The first step is to treat addicted individuals with dignity and compassion.
October 11, 2020:
Little progress has been made in removing the stigma around substance use disorders. People with addiction continue to be blamed for their disease.
Even though medicine long ago reached a consensus that addiction is a complex brain disorder with behavioral components, the public and even many in healthcare and the justice system continue to view it as a result of moral weakness and flawed character.
Alleviating stigma is not easy, in part because the rejection of people with addiction or mental illness arises from violations of social norms. Education is key to removing stigma.
October 4, 2020:
This post is about stigma, not politics. When Joe Biden spoke about his son’s addiction at last week’s debate, he spoke for every parent of an addict, including me. He challenged the stigma presented to him by stating how proud he was of his son and how much he loved him.
It was a remarkable moment for shattering the stigma of addiction.
Those who suffer from addiction are automatically judged as losers and parents who love them are judged as bad parents. Until addiction shows up in your family, it is easy to judge a situation you know nothing about.
The best antidote to stigma is education, which leads to compassion. I will never stop educating others about the disease that killed my son. Never.
September 20, 2020:
There is often no way for families of addicted loved ones to avoid being stigmatized, even if they are completely disengaged with the substance user. The negative label of addiction is still attached to them by neighbors, colleagues from work, other relatives, and previously close friends.
At the opposite end, families who enable the user can be disparaged as foolish for standing by them despite their behavior. This causes family members to isolate and keep the complicated situation a secret. The best way to combat stigma is to take the issues out in the open, not hide them away.
Families who don’t feel stigmatized will be more likely to seek support for their own needs and more able to take an active role in their loved one’s recovery. Families need their own recovery process, which celebrates the courage it takes to access education and support.
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.
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.