More than 72,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2017.
You would think that with the level that the opioid crisis has reached in recent years, most of the public would have some basic understanding of addiction by now. But you’d be wrong.
One evening, I’m scrolling through my Facebook feed and stumble upon a meme that someone had posted. The meme has a picture of an EpiPen and a bottle of Narcan, followed by words that read, “If a kid has a life-threatening allergic reaction, parents have to pay a ridiculous amount of money for an EpiPen, yet a junkie who OD’s for the 15th time gets Narcan for free.”
The post was accompanied by a stream of negative comments agreeing with how unfair it was that “junkies” get better prices on meds than their children do. Nevermind the fact that:
a) Narcan is not available for free from a pharmacy. It’s inexpensive and many places do not require a prescription, but it’s not free. Some community organizations, however, do offer it for free as a way to stop people from overdosing in their community.
b) I am a walking ball of allergies, and I have to take allergy shots. I am required to have an epinephrine pen on hand in the rare event that I have an anaphylactic reaction. The Auvi-Q epinephrine pen is FREE to anyone with a prescription who either holds a health insurance policy of any kind or makes under $100,000 a year.
So aside from this meme being rather rude, it’s also inaccurate. However, seeing it simply proved to me that we still have a long way to go in our journey to break the stigma that is associated with addiction. Some of these common misconceptions still exist.
- Addiction is purely a moral issue
- Quitting drinking or using drugs is a matter of willpower
- Addiction only happens to a certain “type” of individual
How do we break this? How do we show people who don’t understand, the truth?
I don’t entirely fault others. I once heard someone say that it’s easier to love an addict than it is to be one. Some of the people I know that have these negative attitudes towards people with addiction grew up with alcoholic or drug-addicted family members. It leaves a lasting impression on them, which is completely understandable. However, I believe that breaking the stigma isn’t just about people not feeling shame about their past or present future about suffering from addiction.
It’s about saving lives.
Because many people will never get help for their problem based simply upon having that fear of being “found out.” Fear of losing their job. Fear of being judged by friends and family members. I have seen countless people in the world of recovery relapse and not return to try and sober up again because they were so ashamed.
I’m not taking the need for accountability away from the alcoholic/addict. At some point, one has to drop their pride and admit defeat to this thing. Unfortunately, some never do.
Addiction doesn’t discriminate. When I see so many of the non-alcoholic and addict people in my life making callous remarks about people who do suffer from this disease, it actually makes me worry for them. So many of these people have children that are in high school or heading off the college. Do you think my parents ever thought it would happen to me? No. Not to THEIR daughter.
I was an early nineties kid. I went to the Just Say No Club after school every day. I won the best essay contest for the D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program in the fifth grade. Trust me. I never thought that addiction would be a demon that I would fight.
You never know how it might start. One tragic life event that takes your occasional drinking life to an alcoholic level. A surgery that lands you a prescription of Percocet, and you REALLY like the way it makes you feel. A doctor that writes you a prescription for Xanax because you are going through a stressful time. This idea that addiction only starts with a certain type of person is completely false.
I see so many of these people who sit in judgment, only to later watch some of them dealing with a drinking or drug problem with one of their own family members. You can see how it changes them. Only then do they begin to let their wall down to the idea that addiction isn’t “a choice” once it gets to a certain point.
But I don’t want to change people’s ideas by wishing for them to have a loved one suffer from this thing. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.
I think that the biggest way for us to break the stigma related to addiction is to show people what recovery looks like. For recovered alcoholics/addicts to show people that, not only can we recover, but we can become some pretty amazing people that contribute a lot to society and help others.
What about the people that still judge you? What about the people who, even though you ARE in recovery, treat you differently or act like you carry the plague?
Honestly? If someone is going to be nasty to me over something that I am trying to get well and stay well over, that’s sort of their stuff. All I can really do is keep my side of the street clean. If I’m being a good and sober person, and tackling the next right indicated thing, what people think about me is none of my business.
There’s a reason I choose to be open about my recovery. After I let people get to know me, it’s something I usually begin to share with people.
The first response I get is always, “What? You? I would never have guessed that in a million years.”
Exactly. Because there is no one type of person who suffers from this thing. But we are ALL capable of recovering from it.