“If he wanted to quit using heroin, he would.”
“Drug addiction is a choice.”
“Stupid junkies… they deserve to die. They deserve everything they get.”
Those who struggle with addiction face far more criticism than those who struggle with other mental health conditions, mostly because the disease itself is both harshly misunderstood and stigmatized. While many mental health conditions are stigmatized to a certain extent, those struggling with addiction tend to face the most adversity and unfair judgment. About a century ago, when the disease of addiction was far less understood and studied than it is today, general misconception made a lot more sense.
Knowing what we know now, the condemnation that addicts and alcoholics face seems is based on opinion rather than fact. The fact is, addiction is a diagnosable and medically recognized brain disease – one that is chronic, relapsing, and can be improved with ongoing treatment. Addiction is a destructive and powerful disease marked by compulsive drug-seeking behavior despite personal consequences, and a mental obsession so powerful that it leads many individuals down a path of irreversible self-destruction. The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the DSM-V, by the American Psychiatric Association) identifies diagnostic criteria for substance abuse and substance addiction. Medical professionals aside, those who have suffered through active addiction firsthand understand that they truly have no choice in the matter.
What Causes Addiction?
There are many potential contributing factors when it comes to the development of an addictive disorder. It is important to understand that no one chooses to become an addict or an alcoholic. No one wakes up one day and thinks, “You know what, I think I’ll start drinking heavily at 8am, pass out drunk by 3pm, and continue on with this vicious cycle until I’ve lost absolutely everything of value in my life.” Instead, addiction is a combination of genetic predisposition, environmental factors and underlying mental or physical health conditions. Researchers estimate that genetics are responsible for between 40 and 60 percent of one’s propensity towards addictive tendencies. This essentially means that if addiction runs in your family, you are far more likely to become an addict or an alcoholic yourself. Environmental factors also play a major role. Those who grow up in impoverished areas and who are constantly surrounded by drug use are more likely to pick up using themselves at some point. Environment also has to do with peer pressure – being surrounded by a group of friends that pressures an individual to drink at a young age or partake in illicit drug use increases the chances of developing a substance abuse disorder later on in life. Finally, untreated mental health conditions are common amongst addicts and alcoholics. Many individuals who struggle with conditions like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia will attempt to self-medicate with chemical substances in order to alleviate symptoms. While doing so might provide temporary relief, it will inevitably lead to the worsening of symptoms in the long run.
The causes of addiction will vary immensely on a person-to-person basis. It is impossible to predict who will fall victim to addiction, just as it is impossible to predict who will fall victim to cancer, heart disease or stroke. While the disease is certainly non-discriminatory it can be prevented. If you have a history of substance abuse in your family, for example, it would be wise to stay away from chemical substances altogether. If you are experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition, make an appointment with a psychiatrist. If you find yourself heading down a dangerous path, nip the problem in the bud and seek professional treatment as soon as possible.
Addiction – Breaking the Stigma
Unfortunately, many men and women who need professional help fail to seek it because of this existing stigma. They either think they should be able to overcome the addiction on their own, or they are so overcome with shame and guilt that they avoid the subject altogether. How do we break the stigma associated with substance dependency? There are several steps that we have to take in order to end misinformation and bring accurate facts about addiction to the forefront of conversations nationwide. The steps are listed below, and are not all-inclusive.
- Physicians must exercise more caution when prescribing potentially addictive medications. Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs) can be utilized to help determine whether or not a patient needs counseling for a substance abuse disorder. Currently, the program is mainly geared towards those who bounce from doctor to doctor in hopes of getting more than one prescription for the same medication (doctor shopping). Expanding this program will not only monitor patients, but offer them a solution if they are found to be struggling.
- The conversation surrounding addiction must be changed. There is still a lot of focus on the negative and not a ton of focus on the positive. Continuing to share stories of hope and recovery can be immensely impactful.
- More emphasis needs to be put on evidence-based treatment. There is currently a huge stigma surrounding naloxone, a drug that helps reverse the effects of opioid-related overdose (especially in the case of heroin overdoses). Many believe that this life-saving drug is somehow a negative thing. If those who have survived resuscitation and gone on to live happy, fulfilled and drug-free lives begin sharing their stories more often, the stigma may be loosened just a bit.
- Prevention efforts need to be increased. It’s easy to slap teenagers on the wrist when they get in trouble abusing alcohol or other substances, and write it off as nothing more than a “phase.” In reality, when red flags are presenting themselves so early on, more preventative measures should be taken. It is also crucial that other measures are taken, like offering safe disposal sites for unused and expired prescription medications.
- The stigma surrounding Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) must also be addressed. In certain recovery communities there is a huge stigma about MAT and those who take drugs like Suboxone or methadone short-term in order to reduce cravings. The truth is, these medications are often prescribed by licensed physicians/addiction specialists in order to help alleviate relapse triggers during early recovery. Misinformation regarding MAT can be detrimental to the overall process of addiction recovery.
Of course, this is only the tip of the iceberg. One thing that has been helping to break the stigma is the prevalence of well-known celebrities coming forward and sharing their personal struggles with addiction. When celebrities like Ben Affleck, Demi Moore, Russell Brand and Brad Pitt speak about their personal experiences, it further helps members of the general public understand that this is a disease that does not discriminate, and that even the most respectable and reputable names can fall victim to substance dependency. If you have been struggling with an addictive disorder, you are not alone. Millions of other men and women across the country are currently in the same boat. Sadly, the majority of them won’t seek treatment… but this does not mean that help isn’t available.
Chapel Hill Detox Program
At Chapel Hill we believe that everyone who has suffered at the hands of substance abuse and dependency should have the opportunity to heal. We also understand that addiction is a very real and very serious disease, and that those who have been suffering at the hands of substance dependency need to enter treatment as quickly as possible. For this reason, we will help you determine which detox program is right for your personal requirements, and we will support and guide you along on your own journey of addiction recovery. All you need to do is pick up the phone and give us a call.