Reducing the Stigma of Addiction One Story at a Time
Addict. The word immediately brings a negative connotation to mind. There is nothing good about the word addict. For this reason, a huge stigma of addiction exists, and that, unfortunately, holds many people back from getting the help they need so badly.
Society has kept quiet about addiction for far too long. Only in recent times have stories started to surface about addiction, and it is a tremendous step forward. The more awareness that can be put out about drug and alcohol abuse the better. People will begin to realize that they are not as isolated and alone as they thought, and that help is out there.
As Stories Emerge the Stigma of Addiction Gets Reduced
People who are in addiction recovery can do one of two things. They can choose to be vocal about their experience or to keep it private. While this is a completely personal decision, it is important to think about how many people may be touched by a single story. One person’s experience may convince five others to get treatment.
One young woman from New Jersey has been doing just this. Marissa went to rehab in South Florida in the summer of 2015 for heroin addiction. She was hooked on heroin in her late teens after getting addicted to prescription painkillers prescribed to her for a routine procedure.
After rehab, she stayed in Florida at a sober living home and seemed to be thriving. She got a job, was going to meetings, had a great sober support network, and life was happy. Things changed that October when she went home to New Jersey for a few weeks to see if she could handle it. Turns out, she couldn’t.
Marissa was found in her room by her mother in a full overdose. She was unconscious, blue, and not breathing. When she got to the hospital, she was put into a medically induced coma for three days. When those three days were over, she came to. However, she had suffered multiple organ failures, a severe stroke, and heart attack.
At only 23, Marissa had to relearn everything. She was also in a wheelchair for six months and began to learn to walk short distances after about nine months of therapy. To this day, one year later, she can only walk short distances. She has problems with her vision and speech, and cannot drive a car. Things she once took for granted were erased from her life with one bad batch of heroin.
Using a Tragic Story as a Message of Hope
Marissa could have kept quiet about her ordeal. Instead, she chose to publicize her story as an effort to prevent other young people from going down the same road. She has many loyal people following her story. She travels with her mother around the Northeast U.S. to schools and other establishments to share her story and message of hope, not of failure.
Many people wouldn’t feel as comfortable as Marissa to share their story with strangers. But, it is undeniable that she has reached a huge population, and possibly prevented numerous overdoses. Sure, she has some people who write negative things about her; they called her a useless junkie and told her she was better off dead. These types of people have a smaller voice than those who share a message of possibility and overcoming failure.
Stories From All Stages of Addiction and Recovery Have Value
The more exposure addiction gets, the better. From stories about the horrors of the opioid epidemic to stories like Marissa’s, every time an experience is put out there, it gets in front of more people. Those people may be suffering from addiction themselves or may know someone who is. If more people can get treatment, sharing these stories will always be a success.
According to the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, 23.5 million Americans are addicted to drugs or alcohol. This astonishing number means that more than likely, someone in each family, a group of friends, organization or workplace is suffering from addiction. Everyone is affected, even if they choose to turn a blind eye, which is the worst thing a person can do.
Of all the people who are suffering from addiction, only about 11% get treatment. The stigma of addiction greatly contributes to this low number. Other factors like lack of access to care play a role in it as well. Right now, addiction is still viewed as something that people should be able to fix and move on. The problem is a lack of understanding of how addiction works and how strong of a hold it can have on an addict.
Throughout history, people have made a habit of ignoring uncomfortable topics until they become too great to ignore. Addiction is getting there with today’s opiate epidemic, and it is up to everyone involved to help reduce the stigma of addiction.