When Will We Overcome the Stigma of Addiction?

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Not far from New York City, there’s a little fishing town that oozes quaintness, like so many on our coasts. Historic lighthouse atop a mountain, boats dotting the water below, seagulls diving for fish….you know the ones. Recently a former drug addict (or person in recovery from a substance use disorder) announced his hope to open a short-term treatment center (in a church, no less)  in one of these towns on the East Coast to allow people to detox “before transitioning to their next phase of recovery.”

 

Not surprisingly, some residents are against it, saying that such a facility would “be out of character” for the town and “imperil local residents.”  Not in my back yard—NIMBY—is nothing we haven’t heard before when it comes to facilities related to addiction treatment in suburbs. The irony is that this particular town has had more than its share of addiction problems. You’d think, by the way some of the residents talk, that it’s been immune to drug problems, or shut off from world.

 

Yet several months earlier, on the other side of the country, quite a different event than speaking out against a place for treating substance abuse took place. A former self-described “alcoholic who dabbled in heroin, Ecstacy and cocaine,” was feted with ice cream with a candle in it after announcing in a restaurant that she was 10 years sober. The woman said she had felt a huge amount of shame and a problem with telling her family that she was in recovery. It took her “three years … to speak up among friends and another three for her to do so publicly.”

But that day, she spoke openly about her recovery to the waitress when she turned down wine with dinner, which is the reason the woman brought her the ice cream and candle. And today, as executive director of the Center for the Open Recovery in the Bay Area, she promotes the idea that people in recovery “be open and even celebrated for managing the disease that is plaguing our nation.”

 

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The writer of the opinion article that this anecdote appeared in points to a recommendation in the 2017 report from Trump’s opioid commission that suggests the government battle stigma…”by partnering with private and nonprofit groups on a national media and educational campaign similar to those launched during the AIDS public health crisis.”

 

She acknowledges that there a risk in speaking up, especially in sensitive occupations like medicine and flying, but the irony is that you can best remove stigma by being open. Yes, AA and other 12-step programs advocate anonymity, she says, but people in these groups can share their stories and still honor the group’s traditions if they just say “I’m in recovery.”

 

The woman refers to the AIDS epidemic and how initially gay men were blamed for “bringing the fatal disease upon themselves,” and compares that to those who see addiction as a moral failing and thus blame people who abuse drugs for their addiction. But the AIDS support community did eventually make a difference and gain support for more program funding through efforts like Act Up marches, the AIDS quilt, and posters.

 

Funding for research and treatment programs is sorely lacking when it comes to addiction, and the country needs to step up, stop the denial, and do more, she says. One way to do that and remove the stigma is to be open and speak up. She quotes Jim Hod, the co-founder and CEO of Facing Addiction, as saying addiction “is an illness that nobody is every going to get, nobody ever has and nobody has ever had.”

 

There are other organizations who join Center for Open Recovery in promoting openness: Faces & Voices of Recovery, Shatterproof, and Facing Addiction.

“Our Voices Have Power” says Faces & Voices. Is there a chance, if enough people speak up, that the stigma can be eradicated?

 

For more information please contact our Bay Area rehab & addiction treatment center by calling (866) 569-9391