Stigma: It holds people back from getting help

Taking time to pause and think before speaking is a good characteristic. It isn’t hard to understand people who give their harsh opinions whether they are well-informed or not. Case in point: Addiction. It is a disease, but it isn’t easy to get people to grasp why it’s a disease. They don’t think that far into it. To them, those who use and abuse substances are making a choice to use and misuse harmful substances so they deserve what happens to them.

“Many people don’t understand why or how other people become addicted to drugs,” says NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse). “They may mistakenly think that those who use drugs lack moral principles or willpower, that they could stop their drug use simply by choosing to.

“In reality, drug addiction is a complex disease, and quitting usually takes more than good intentions and strong will. Drugs change the brain in ways that make quitting hard, even for those who want to.”

It is true that the first time may be by choice … or a life partner may force you to use drugs even if you don’t want to. (We don’t think about that, but it happens.) When the drug is used again, and again, the brain changes, making self control difficult and prevents the user from being able to stop. The urges are too great for them to refuse. Often the drug of choice is conceived by the user to be the mistress they would do anything for … anything. And when they recover from drug use, they will be at risk of relapse for the rest of their lives.

That doesn’t mean that treatment doesn’t work.

You can learn about what happens to a person’s brain when they take drugs by visiting www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/.

Something else is problematic: Stigma. Stigma is a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality or person.

“Stigma … creates an environment of shame, fear, and silence that prevents many people from seeking help and treatment,” advises NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness). The agency goes on to state that “Nearly 10 million adults in the U.S. experience a serious mental illness … that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activity.” Of those who have struggled with a substance use disorder, more than half of them had a co-occurring mental illness.

Think about your dark secret you never want to be revealed. Why is that? What are you afraid of?

Now, think about the feelings a person struggling with addiction might have, how afraid they are to reach out for help because they are so certain they will be judged for being weak or inferior.

Everyone in the community owns a stake in the future of the community. By becoming more informed about substance use and how it affects the human brain, how it changes lives, how recovery works, everyone can help reduce the stigma and offer encouragement and support for recovery. Treatment works.

Addiction has no address, but Family Recovery Center does. For more information about the education, prevention and treatment programs for substance abuse and related behavioral issues, contact the agency at 964 N. Market St., Lisbon; phone, 330-424-1468; or e-mail, info@familyrecovery.org. FRC is funded, in part, by United Way of Northern Columbiana County.

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