Addiction, Society, and the Stigma

Today I want to discuss a topic that is near and dear to my heart. Sadly, it is a topic that has affected me deeply because two people that I love dearly struggle with addiction, one being a drug addict, the other an alcoholic. For simplicity’s sake, I will refer to alcoholism and drug addiction as an addiction. I recently did a video on this which can be found here.

Why the Stigma?

There is a stigma in our society around addiction and this is not a new thing. Years ago when someone in my family struggled with drug addiction back in the 90s it was still something that you could not speak about. People at our church viewed us differently and even those not in the church looked down upon my family. Our pastor and his wife were there for us and to this day both are still very close to our family. In our present-day and time, it is still looked down upon and cannot be spoken about openly, whether you are the addict or the family of the addict.

Addiction and the Brain

“The addicted brain is distinctly different from the nonaddicted brain, as manifested by changes in brain metabolic activity, receptor availability, gene expression, and responsiveness to environmental cues… That addiction is tied to changes in brain structure and function is what makes it, fundamentally, a brain disease.”

Leshner (1997). (Article linked below)

When the person I loved years ago was deep in his addiction I was taught at a family day that the brain is different for addicts vs non addicts. The science is there and clearly states that the brain is different for those that have an addiction.

Dr. Manejwala (2014) states that addiction is not a choice, but a disease.

How Most People View Addiction

Most people view addiction as either a bad habit, a bad choice, or a sin. Most people think that the person that is struggling with the addiction is weak, low class, or just troubled. They believe that if the person was stronger they could kick the habit. They think that it only happens to other people raised in other homes until the day it happens to someone they love. All of these thoughts of addiction are so far from the truth.

Too often, well-meaning people say that the person can put the alcohol or drugs down if they loved their family enough, trusted Jesus enough, had enough faith in Jesus, or if they were loved. Sadly, if love or faith were enough most addicts would be sober. There is a mega-church pastor right now that states if the alcoholic had enough faith in Jesus they could walk away from alcohol. I do believe that God heals and I am sure there are cases where God has healed someone from an addiction, but I have not personally seen this happen.

The Truth

It is not until a person can hit rock bottom and have a desire to get help, only then will the person get sober. No amount of love can make a person sober or even want to get the help they need. It took both people in my life to hit rock bottom and desire to get help. The treatment for addiction whether alcohol or drugs is to do a Twelve Step Program such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and counseling if needed. (There may be other programs, but I am not familiar with them and AA has been around for many years and the program works). They will also need a sponsor to help hold them accountable. Once someone enters a twelve-step program and works the steps, most will have to continue in order to stay sober.

When this person in my life stated that he was an alcoholic, so many people did not understand. He has been asked if once he identifies why he is an alcoholic if he can drink again and “handle his alcohol.”

The Saddest Part

The saddest part about addiction is that very few actually get sober and stay sober. According to Dr. Manejwala (2014):

  • About 1/3 of people sober less than a year will remain sober
  • Less than 1/2 of people sober at one year will remain sober
  • If the person remains sober at 5 years the chance of relapse drops to 15 %

A Non-Profit Born Out of Tragedy

A friend that I went to high school with named Ryan, was a very caring and talented football player that had a very bright future but died tragically. He was playing college football when he had a hand injury. Ryan had to have a pin surgically placed in his hand and was prescribed opioids. After being prescribed this pain medication for some time, he became addicted. This lead to an addiction to heroin. His mother felt she could not share this with anyone. Ryan got treatment, but after one year relapsed on heroin that was laced with fentanyl. He lost his life tragically to the terrible disease known as addiction. His mother, Doreen Barr, has since created an amazing 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and is now sharing Ryan’s story in hopes to spread drug awareness and break the stigma around drugs and addiction. For more information check out In Ryan’s Name, Inc. on Facebook and this article that was written in the local paper.

If You Struggle

First, know that you are not alone. You are precious and so very loved. You are and can never be too far gone from the Lord or from getting help. The first step if you are struggling with addiction/alcoholism is to admit you have a problem and seek help. This website is a great starting point and there is a hotline to call regardless if the problem is drugs or alcohol. Finding a Narcotics Anonymous (NA) or an Alcoholics Annonymous (AA) meeting and then finding a sponsor are the next steps.

What Can You Do?

The first thing you can do is love all people. Love those struggling with addiction and those who love someone that is struggling. God’s greatest commandment is for us to LOVE. Next, allow those people to share and talk and do not judge them. We must love them and support them, I am not talking about enabling them, but do not give up on them or stop praying for them!

If the person has not admitted they have a problem, no amount of love or faith can make them come to this realization. They have to hit rock bottom and want help. Sadly, some may never hit this rock bottom.

As always, thank you for reading and checking out my blog. I would love to hear from you. Please email me at Lindsay@naturalnursemama.com and subscribe below. Also, please feel free to share the links below! For information on speaking engagements please email me at Lindsay@naturalnursemama.com

References:

Manejwala, O. (2014). How often do long-term sober alcoholics and addicts relapse? Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/craving/201402/how-often-do-long-term-sober-alcoholics-and-addicts-relapse

Leshner, A. I. (1997). Addiction Is a Brain Disease, and It Matters. Science 278(45). Retrieved from http://ecnp-congress.eu/~/media/Files/ecnp/communication/talk-of-the-month/Wim%20van%20den%20Brink/Addiction%20is%20a%20brain%20disease%20and%20it%20matters.pdf

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