Stigma Associated With Substance Abuse
The stigma associated with substance abuse has made it a social norm to label those who are struggling with drug or alcohol addictions. Often times these labels have a negative connotation to them like addict, alcoholic, or junkie. These labels were developed based on how the media portrays this growing population and the activities they are associated with. Unfortunately, the media did not portray these individuals properly. Quite the contrary, the media and society itself has had a false definition of what these words actually mean to people who have struggled with addiction. The media has done this population a disservice by putting such a negative spin on a disease that progressively gets worse as the abuse continues.
“No one will help an addict.”
“He’s just a heroin junkie, why should they believe him?”
“She is just a crackhead, why should she have rights?”
Treatment for substance abuse is an avenue in which a person can properly identify the causes of their issues, the effects of said issues, and where they stand as it pertains to the drugs themselves. By understanding where these terms come from and what they mean, a person can then better grasp his/her state of being.
Terms in Recovery
Addict is a term that was placed on people who have struggled with drugs then eventually adopted by a 12-step program as they realized that being an addict was a mental issue that had nothing to do with drugs. Once they quit using drugs, they determined that their addict mentality manifested in other areas of their lives, which gave them a better understanding of what being an addict actually is. After gaining a more developed insight, they realized that being an addict who is clean is not a bad thing and is actually a term that they could own based on their knowledge.
Alcoholic was a term that was actually introduced in the same manner as addict, but much earlier as Alcoholics Anonymous was conceived much sooner than programs such as Narcotics Anonymous. But like addict, alcoholics who have gained a better understanding of themselves use the word as it pertains to their mental problem that has nothing to do with alcohol, but rather a way of thinking that manifested itself in alcohol and other substances.
Are all people who need treatment for substance addiction addicts or alcoholics? The answer is no. Having an addiction, or “chemical dependency” and being an addict or alcoholic are completely different. Someone with an addiction may very well be able to stop doing the substance or substances, and exhibit completely normal behaviors. An addict or alcoholic exhibit “addictive” behaviors even after their particular substance issue has been suppressed.
The Behavior Behind the Words
For example, if you go to any AA or NA meeting, you will notice that there are several people smoking cigarettes and pounding coffee. This is an example of how obsessive and compulsive behaviors manifest themselves in areas of life other than active addiction. Another example would be the tendency for many addicts or alcoholics, which are basically the same thing, to substitute drugs with obsessive exercise.
A person who comes into treatment addicted to heroin may have developed their addiction from taking opiate-based medications. The person inevitably will find themselves developing a tolerance that has led them to seek a much more potent substance such as heroin. Does this make them an addict? No it does not, for anyone is susceptible to getting addicted so such a powerful substance due to its nature of physical and mental dependency.
Not Every Situation is Black and White
Other examples could include a war veteran drinking to drown the dreams of the lives he has taken, the teenager experimenting with drugs for the first time, or even the bipolar patient who has yet to receive her diagnosis are all great examples of how terms like addict or alcoholic are misused to mislabel a situation. So the real question is how do these people get the help they need, if they first must be labeled to receive treatment? You wouldn’t call someone a diabetic or cancer patient before their diagnosis, nor would you make any other assumption about their health based on their lifestyle.
Like what was shared in the video, you cannot simply put a person entering treatment into one of two boxes. Treatment simply provides a person the opportunity to rid themselves of the drugs that blur his/her thinking and offers the tools they need to figure out for themselves what the exact nature of their addiction is. Being an addict or alcoholic is for the person themselves to decide, not the media or society.