Tanya Cook, CAI
Breaking The Stigma of Addiction
Updated: Feb 28, 2019
This morning I woke up thinking about the #Stigma surrounding those with substance use disorders (SUD) - otherwise known as addiction. Stereotypical pictures in people's minds, that don't really mirror reality. Stereotypical language that perpetuate the Stigma. Comments and words like, "addicts are just bad people", "junkies", "druggie", "they could stop, they just don't want to", and the list goes on.
And then there's the stigma that parents and families face. I am absolutely sure that I have friends and family reading this right now that have said this about my husband and I.
"Poor things, they have two sons that turned out to be drug addicts."
"They must be so disappointed."
"This would never happen to us, our kids, or my loved one."
Stigma - "a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person."
People with SUD are all too often labeled by society. And sadly, it is the stigma and the labels that have created one of the biggest barriers to a person seeking treatment. Stigma inflicts shame, blame, isolation, and in some cases leads to death. Even addiction and mental health professionals are learning to change our language and the way we refer to individuals with SUD.
So let me set the record straight. Nobody, and I mean absolutely nobody, set out to be an addict. Not a single person has ever said these words, "when I grow up I want to be an addict!" And further, no parent has ever had a vision of their son or daughter becoming an addict.
"Words are important. If you want to care for something, you call it a flower; if you want to kill something, you call it a weed." (Don Coyhis)
If you have ever watched an episode of Intervention 911, you have probably heard the family of the addict make statements like this...
"He was a happy little boy."
"He was the smartest kid in his class."
"She was so talented when she was young."
"He loved to play sports."
This is not just made for TV kind of stuff, these statements are true. Let me introduce you to just a few of the individuals of which I have conducted interventions, put into treatment, or those that have been residents at our sober living home for men. I have intervened and interacted with some of the kindest, smartest, most talented people while working in this field, and yes...all of them with SUD.
(The stories below are accurate and true; however, the names have been changed for privacy purposes.)
Hello, my name is Lindsay and I am 21 years old. All I wanted to be when I grew up was a graduate of LSU. Both of my parents were LSU graduates, as was my siblings. Both my brother and my father were practicing lawyers. I am a smart girl; however, when I went away to college I experienced many struggles. I had ADHD, Bipolar, and undiagnosed Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). I also had an eating disorder, body image issues, and did not feel accepted by my peers. Men only wanted me for the sex, and once they got what they wanted they would date the "skinny" girls. It was painful. I began to isolate. And then I turned to drugs and alcohol to numb the pain of it all. I eventually made it into treatment to address my co-occurring disorders. However, not before dropping out of college, being committed to a psychiatric hospital, and experiencing the death of my father while on suicide watch. I was heartbroken to not be able to attend my own father's funeral.
Hello, my name is Colby and I am 22 years old. All I wanted to be when I grew up was a professional athlete. I was quite literally the hometown hero in my small Texas town. I excelled in every sport I played, and was destined for greatness. My hometown hero status enabled me to fly under the radar screen in many ways. In school, at home, even with the law. College scouts had their eyes set on me by the time I was in the 9th grade. There was no doubt in my mind, I would have been the next major MLB or NFL player of our time. But then I experienced several injuries and subsequent surgeries that ended my baseball and football career. My identity and my entire world came crashing down, and then I turned to the drugs. Although I will never play sports again, through my 60-days of treatment, and sober home living, I got my life back.
Hello, my name is Brittney and I am 27 years old. All I wanted to be when I grew up was a Marine. I enlisted in the Marine Corps and had the misfortune of experiencing a major injury while still in boot camp. My injuries were so extensive that they ended my career before I ever really got started. The physical and emotional pain of my injuries led to my use of pain pills and eventually heroin. My drug use has caused me to endure some very difficult times and health scares. However, through the support of my family, friends and time spent in sober home living I am in a much brighter place today.
Hello, my name is Paul and I am 34 years old. All I wanted to be when I grew up was a lawyer. I was taught from a young age that if I did all the right things, I would have it made in life. So I became an Eagle Scout, sang in the high school choir, graduated from Texas A&M with honors, completed law school and passed the bar on my first try. Somewhere along the way I also successfully discovered crystal meth. My life became unmanageable. I lost my job. Found myself homeless. And then this interventionist came along and told me about treatment options. Talked to me about a better way. A way that would help me get my life back. My family supported me, and I am currently in my first week of treatment.
So the next time you look at a group of innocent children, at the park, in the pick-up line at the elementary school, watching a junior high football game...think of these individuals. Help to break the stigma by realizing that NOBODY wanted to be an addict when they grew up. NOBODY!
For more information about Emunah Recovery Services - Interventions, Sober Transports, and Men's Sober Home Living - please browse our website and reach out to us today!