If you or a loved one is an addict, remember this: It takes courage to face addiction. Often addicts feel shame in a society that fosters that feeling, but addiction is an illness. People who are ill need treatment. They need sympathy and support, not shaming. Here are some reasons why.
- Addicts can be anyone. It is an equal opportunity problem suffered by young and old, black and white, rich and poor, men and women. It is not because they are bad people. It is because they have a certain genetic make-up, or a childhood that predisposes them to risk, or they are part of a peer group that pushes them into it, or a combination of factors.
- Addicts do not deserve to suffer. Addiction itself is suffering enough without the added humiliation of punishment. However, addicts often do illegal things to sustain their habit. Some will lie, cheat, or steal to obtain their drug. But when they are under the influence of drugs, they are, by definition, not themselves. They need help, not humiliation.
- Addicts have a certain neurobiological make-up. Recent studies show that some people are more predisposed to becoming addicts than others. And once they do use alcohol or drugs for a prolonged period the structure of their brain alters, making it more difficult for them to break their habit. Their brains become more hard-wired to their addiction, and they become less able to control their need for drugs or alcohol.
- Addicts of illegal drugs are no different from addicts of prescription drugs. Somehow people think it’s less of a problem if your drugs are prescribed. And of course, it shouldn’t be a problem if people use those drugs as directed. But when people take prescribed drugs more frequently or in larger doses than specified by a doctor, then they can become addicted. In fact, they can be just as addicted as people who take illegal drugs. No matter what drugs plague an addict, it takes the same amount of courage to overcome the problem.
- Addicts recover better without shame. Research shows that sympathetic therapy—as opposed to confrontational shame-inducing therapy—improves recovery results. There are those who think addicts respond to shaming, and possibly think addicts deserve shaming. But this kind of negativity repels most people and makes it less likely that they’ll want to seek treatment. And, it perpetuates the stigma of addiction. By understanding that addiction is a disease, and by using a positive approach, therapists can develop better long-term relationships with patients. And addicts can enjoy better, more long-term success in recovery.
Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here: http://www.nancyscounselingcorner.com/contact-us.