Removing the Stigma of Drug Addiction
“No matter who we are or where we come from, we all know at least one person that is affected by substance use disorder. It can be anything from alcohol and street drugs, to prescription drugs and other addictive substances. Over the last few years, there has been a steady increase in the number of opioid-related overdose deaths, as well as a proliferation in the number of ‘deaths of despair’ (fatalities that are characterized by drug and alcohol poisoning, alcoholic cirrhosis and liver disease, and suicide) in the United States… And the latest numbers from DrugAbuse.gov report that more than 23 million Americans suffer [from] addiction to alcohol, marijuana, and prescription drugs in 2017.”
– Quoted and paraphrased from our very own Ward Blanchard, during the recording of a BrandBuilders podcast.
The stark reality is that “23 million Americans” is most likely a conservative estimate. The fact that only 2.5 million people are actively seeking treatment for these addictions is equally as frightening; moreover, these numbers may not even tell the full story. With addiction, mental health disorders usually go hand-in-hand; people will often deny the fact that they have a problem because of the social stigma attached to the word “addiction”. Because of this inherent shame surrounding substance/alcohol use disorder, the stats related to addiction rates are – most likely – underreported. The stigma surrounding drug and alcohol addiction stems from public perception, shame, mental health disorders, the war on drugs, and behaviors/actions committed while under the influence. We believe everyone has a responsibility to help shift public perception.
Shifting public cognizance towards the solution, rather than the issue, has proven difficult since the turn of the last century. We believe that knowledge and information is power, which is why we continue to spread a message of empowerment while encouraging all of our graduates to become agents of change. Spreading awareness and knowledge on the subject matter helps to alleviate prejudice and misconceptions surrounding drug addiction and the history thereof.
Why is There a Stigma?
There are many reasons as to why substance use disorder has such a bad rap. “The War on Drugs” was a term popularized by the United States’ media after a press conference on June 18, 1971. In that conference, President Nixon declared drugs and drug abuse “public enemy number one”, essentially demonizing illicit substances and (inadvertently) the people who were addicted to drugs. While Nixon did say that the campaign aimed for the “prevention of new addicts, and the rehabilitation of those who are addicted”, the latter took a backseat to prevention practices (such as mandatory minimums, zero-tolerance policies, and anti-drug propaganda). People who suffered from substance use disorder during and after the inception of The War on Drugs began to be viewed disparagingly as “drug addicts” rather than people who required medical intervention.
This led to a shift in public perception in regards to marijuana – and eventually – all illicit street drugs. The belief that drug addiction is a choice, and that the person who is addicted simply lacks a strong constitution is naïve and only helps add fuel to the fire. Comments such as “why can’t you just stop?” and “try to just cut down on your drinking, I can!” diminish the fact that people are battling a very real mental and behavioral disorder. The good news is that it’s treatable.
Instead of heaping shame on individuals suffering from substance use disorders, a vicissitude in public perception could help remove the negative connotation that these people – and subsequent mental health issues – currently face. As Ward Blanchard puts it, regarding his own battle with substance use disorder, “we [our family] had all the resources, as far as finance, at our disposal… and we still couldn’t find appropriate healthcare resources to get me healthy again. We went through years of pain and treatment centers until we were able to find an evidence-based program”.
Evidence-based treatment deals with the root of the issue; the fact that substance use disorder is a brain disease seems to be lost on the healthcare system as a whole. Change needs to come from all angles, which involves the hearts and minds of policy makers, the families of addicts, insurance companies, world governments, and healthcare systems. We believe that wide-spread, proper treatment towards substance/alcohol use disorders and mental health disorders will greatly benefit the United States as a whole.
Knowledge is Power
Addiction is a brain disease characterized by an inability to stop the use of alcohol or an addictive substance, despite the negative consequences associated with its use; it is a chronic and progressive disease that centers in the mind and body, rather than a simple lack of willpower. In a medical sense, addiction is a long-term brain disease and has nothing to do with someone’s character.
This is best illustrated by observing both the current opioid and alcohol use epidemics in the United States. According to the CDC, “around 68% of the more than 70,200 drug overdose deaths in 2017 involved an opioid”. In addition, according to the NIH, 88,000 Americans died of alcohol related deaths in 2017. These numbers are six times higher when compared to numbers from 1999 and the numbers continue to rise yearly. It is a growing problem.
It’s not that people want to die. The fact of the matter is that people have nowhere to turn.
Many people who have never exhibited addictive tendencies before their use of doctor-prescribed painkillers become addicted to these highly-available, extremely potent opioid medications after suffering incidents such as surgeries, car accidents, and falls. This begins the vicious cycle of addiction and mental illness. Once a person discovers that they can no longer fill their legitimate opioid prescription, they often turn to illicit marketplaces to feed their newfound addiction. Prescription opioids, heroin, and strong synthetic opioids (such as fentanyl) continue to eat away at the fabric of public conscience concerning drug addiction, which seems to be both (paradoxically) a blessing and a curse. It is a curse due to the number of preventable deaths, yet it may be a blessing if this epidemic finally brings drug addiction to the forefront of public health policy.
The issue is so widespread that it has become a problem for the majority of Americans in every suburb of the United States, not just the wrongly stereotyped addict living on the streets. Chances are high that if you’re not affected, you know someone that is. It’s a problem that has become hard to ignore. Nearly 140 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose (illicit or prescribed) and nearly 188 Americans die every day from alcohol related deaths. It’s a problem that has garnered equal amounts infamy and concern without dealing with the core issue.
The rise in “deaths of despair” – fatalities that are characterized by drug and alcohol poisoning, alcoholic cirrhosis, liver disease, and suicide – run concurrent with the rising rates of alcoholism and drug addiction. The idea that alcohol use is safer than drug use is a common misconception; the morbidity of alcoholic addiction does just as much (and more) harm in terms of all-cause mortality towards susceptible populations afflicted with substance use disorders. The United States is experiencing a rise in these types of deaths in every state across the country.
Programmatic aims need to be set high, as everyone seems to be affected by this new epidemic. Teaching safe prescribing practices to physicians, limiting the amount of opioid prescriptions, and ending The War on Drugs would only be the tip of the iceberg. Effective medical treatments for alcohol use disorder and substance use disorder need to be as pervasive as the drugs themselves. An overhaul on how humanity views substance use disorder, the users of these drugs, and even the drugs themselves needs to occur in order to make this change possible.
The Change Agents
While the goal is international awareness of these medical aims and preventative measures, we have to start somewhere. Our Alumni Program at The Blanchard Institute – The Change Agents – consists of a group of men and women who are in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction; this program helps to spread knowledge regarding the disease of addiction, address the overall stigma attached to the disease, and help other people that are in a similar position to recover. We strive to make the journey to wellness a road well-paved and travelled.
Addiction is a disease that thrives in isolation, shame, and guilt: characteristics that cultivate the swampland of the soul. This is why a large item in any recovery plan is the inclusion of new sober people, recovery groups, and sober supports into everyday life. Substance use disorder has a hard time flourishing in a group of sober, healthy, happy, and like-minded individuals.
Thus, the Blanchard Change Agents’ main responsibility is to connect with other current clients and their family members to serve as a foundation of understanding and a pillar of strength for those in need. Our Change Agents offer support to their fellows and become a resource of hope and connection for those in need. These men and women are living examples of recovery. We believe some of the most powerful words one can say to someone struggling with addiction are: “Me too. You are not alone, and I am here with you. We do recover. A better life is right around the corner.”
We believe that programs such as ours help foster support, service, and fellowship, while building life-long connections within the recovery community.
As one of the East Coast’s leading substance use and dual-diagnosis treatment centers in Charlotte, North Carolina, we believe that we have a responsibility to provide the absolute best chance for any person who has been affected by substance use disorder: including the family members.
The Blanchard Institute has helped a large number of people recover from the depths of alcohol use disorder and substance use disorder. We believe in a comprehensive, holistic approach that deals with the problems that center in the mind, body, and spirit to heal the individual and the entire family unit. Our substance abuse treatment center in Charlotte, North Carolina centers on removing the stigma and the shackles of drug addiction to provide the light that will shine on a brighter tomorrow.
If you or a loved one is ready for help, or would like questions answered, visit our contact page or call (704) 288-1097 today!
North Carolina Drug Abuse Treatment
Sometimes the only way to break the cycle of drug abuse and drug addiction is complete abstinence from drugs and alcohol. If you believe you or a loved one is exhibiting signs and symptoms of drug abuse and addiction, proper medical care may be necessary. The Blanchard Institute employs evidence-based therapies and effective treatment to help people recover from substance abuse disorders. We proudly use a dual-diagnosis approach that blends mental health care and substance abuse treatment to create a highly effective and individualized treatment plan. Contact us today for addiction treatment in Charlotte, NC.