How do you view opioid addiction? There are many viewpoints: opioid addiction involves victims, addicts, sinners, or patients. It’s hard to decide which view actually helps opioid recovery. How can you choose one that avoids stigma?
The advocates behind Recovery Month have an idea. After all, they use each September to raise awareness about recovery from substance addiction and mental illness.
In honor of Recovery Month’s thirtieth anniversary, Buprenorphine Doctors has launched a month-long series of opioid treatment articles tied to the movement. So far, we’ve explored community and co-occurring disorders, and today we’ll look into how stigma harms opioid recovery.
Stigma in opioid addiction is the view that addicts are nothing more than addicts, and that their addiction is a moral failing. The advocacy group Shatterproof writes that when we stigmatize those suffering from substance addictions, we discourage them from beginning recovery. That’s how we’ve ended up with this stat: only 1 in 10 people with substance abuse disorders are currently in treatment.
Recovery Month knows that stigma can prevent people from admitting they need treatment. Because stigma hampers growth, Recovery Month champions those in recovery and helps them tell their stories. Everyone in recovery is still a human being. Amplifying what they say can humanize their struggles with addiction. Judging someone harshly gets harder if you hear their full story.
That’s what Recovery Month organizes across the country: education and compassion. Everyone suffering from addiction, including the disabled, deserves them both.
Those with disabilities don’t usually come to mind when we talk about opioid addiction. But it grips them like any other group, and we need to recognize their vulnerability.
Here, when we say “disabled,” we mean people with both movement disorders (like Parkinson’s disease) and learning disabilities (like dyslexia). Both conditions often tie into opioid addiction.
When your brain’s signals don’t travel to your body efficiently, that’s a movement disorder. It can mean stiffness, shakes, and slowness whenever you move. Physical disabilities like these are common in the elderly, but things like arthritis do also happen in younger people.
When you have trouble moving your body, there’s a chance that you’ll become frustrated over time. Long-standing frustration can be enough for some to turn to drug use, especially when drugs like opioids bring sharp relief.
Physical relief from chronic pain also lures the physically disabled toward opioid addiction. These disabilities sometimes include chronic pain, which doctors treat with prescription opioids. Think of it this way: if you still feel the agony of a car accident from years ago, you’ll likely receive painkillers for so long that your body risks addiction. Prescription opioids give you relief you can’t get anywhere else, and so you can’t always avoid addiction to them.
Those who have learning disabilities face a different trial that also risks opioid addiction: social stigma. Research suggests that many people tie learning disabilities to intelligence—in other words, they believe that the disabiled have low intelligence.
But that’s a false connection. Learning disabilities are just differences in the way that a person processes information. Someone with dyslexia struggles to transmit the page’s words to his brain, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t understand them. Someone with an auditory processing disorder struggles to transmit sounds to her brain, but that doesn’t mean she wouldn’t understand them.
Because of the misconception that learning disability is stupidity, people who have them often face social stigma. Here’s what they might feel:
These effects overlap with the circumstances that often lead people to drug use. The ecstatic high of opioids becomes even more attractive when you feel isolated, insecure, and unhappy. Learning disabilities, when stigmatized, can increase the risk of opioid use and addiction.
To learn more about how opioid addiction grips the disabled, visit Delphi Behavioral Health Group for in-depth medical content.
As you can see, stigma in recovery does plenty of harm. It ensnares people who earnestly want to recover from opioid addiction, and it can prime others to become addicted in the first place.
But Recovery Month celebrates that for many people, stigma hasn’t stopped them. When someone recovers from addiction, their story can take its place among Recovery Month’s Voices and encourage others who fight the same fight. Read how so many people have overcome stigma to pursue life without addiction. You can join them this September, and maybe this time next year, you might share your own recovery story.
But if you’re not the one fighting through opioid addiction, you can still act. You can practice compassion rather than show stigma. Addiction already isolates those who suffer from it; judgement just makes it worse, and makes treatment less likely. Think of people who face addiction: a family member, a friend, a stranger. Each of them is a human being in need of help. Speak about opioid addiction with them in mind.
You can also join your community’s opioid recovery efforts. Recovery Month sponsors community events to educate about addiction recovery, and so all you need to do is search for one you could attend. Showing up to an event might not seem like much. But you won’t learn anything without attending in the first place. See what new info you can take home with you—learning the realities of opioid addiction and treatment will help you sympathize with the people it impacts.
You can look online to better understand opioid addiction and treatment options. We at Buprenorphine Doctors write careful content to answer your opioid questions. Whether you worry about your own addiction or someone else’s, we can help you understand your choices. If you want to explore opioid treatment options, we have directories for opioid addiction centers and doctors. Opioid recovery is difficult but no longer impossible once you take the first step toward treatment.
And if you’d just like to know a little more about Recovery Month, read through our ongoing series, and check in again next Friday for the next article.