When it comes to sobriety, we face many obstacles on our recovery path, particularly during those days, weeks, months, or years leading up to our first day sober. Anyone who’s ever struggled with addiction and tried to get sober, successfully or unsuccessfully, knows full well that making the decision to sober up is not for the faint of heart.
While, as mentioned, there are many obstacles along the recovery path, one of the biggest is the stigma associated with addiction. Like it or not, this particular stigma is a public health issue that needs to be addressed. Let’s examine why.
Those of us who are in recovery know that addiction has nothing to do with our moral values or character as human beings. Nevertheless, there still exist many negative and powerful perceptions—or, stigmas—commonly associated with compulsive drug use and alcoholic behaviors. These perceptions can lead to damaged relationships, they can impact the mental health of an addict, and they can contribute to things like incarcerations and higher death rates even. None of this is to be taken lightly.
Here are some common stereotypes associated with addiction:
The addict is weak or flawed. When people view addiction or alcoholism as a character flaw, they’re quick to judge the person struggling. This can lead to a wide range of consequences. It can be very damaging to an addict’s self-esteem and if they’re trying to get sober or stay sober, it’s also quite disheartening and discouraging. Additionally, it can impact an addict’s decision to get sober in the first place for fear of being judged.
Addicts or alcoholics make poor choices. This presupposes that we choose addiction. We don’t. Addiction is, for all intents and purposes, a disease, or what many of us affectionately like to call, a “dis-ease”. But, we don’t choose it, and the fact that we suffer from it has no bearing on our character and does not indicate poor decision-making skills. It just IS.
Addicts are poor, addicts are uneducated, or addicts come from broken homes. This might be true for some addicts, but the fact is, we come from all walks of life. Many of us are doctors or lawyers, many of us are artists, and many of us come from wonderfully loving homes. And, yes, some of us might be jobless, homeless, and we may have had challenging upbringings, just like other people. The point is that once you remove addiction from the equation, we’re no different from the rest of the global population. Addiction doesn’t discriminate, and the perceived notion that it does just perpetuates the stigma surrounding it.
When an addict gets sober, he or she often says he’s getting “clean”— this means addiction must be “dirty”. Unfortunately, the word “clean” when used in reference to sobriety can lead many non-addicts to think that addiction is, in fact, “dirty,” so addicts must be “dirty” as well. Perhaps we need to ditch the term. Or, maybe we can just encourage the people around us to have a more open mind while not getting caught up in the semantics. For the record, addicts aren’t dirty. At least, not by default. If they are dirty, it’s just a hygiene issue. It’s not addiction that’s responsible, in and of itself.
In that same vein, some people, even in the recovery community, have chosen to discard any sobriety jargon that might be perceived negatively. You’ll find many sober people who work solid recovery programs but refuse to identify as addicts or alcoholics because they feel these terms have a negative connotation. Or, they just don’t use words like, “clean,” in reference to their recovery. This is totally okay. At the end of the day, it all boils down to what works best for the individual.
So, how can we fight the stigma?
We can fight the stigma surrounding addiction by working together. If someone you know, care about, or love is struggling with addiction, keep an open mind. Maintain healthy boundaries, but don’t walk away from them if you can help it. Encourage others around you to do the same, and if you hear someone talking negatively about addiction, thus perpetuating the stigma, speak up. Understand the science, and don’t make the mistaken assumption that addiction is a choice. Numerous studies have shown that addiction behaves like a disease, so consider looking at it from a different perspective. Would you treat a good friend poorly if he or she was in pain because of a chronic or debilitating illness? Probably not.
Leave behind old ideas. Once-upon-a-time, there was a drug campaign making its rounds at schools and colleges that used the slogan, “just say no.” Maybe you remember it. The intent behind the campaign was positive—to keep kids off drugs, encouraging them to simply say, “no.” We understand now, however, that it’s not that easy. Again, addiction isn’t a choice, and it’s a lot more complex than we realized in the past. The rising number of opioid addiction cases, for example, doesn’t have as much to do with poor decision-making as it does with doctors prescribing medication they claim to be safe.
To those of you out there who have a best friend, a significant other, a family member, a peer, a neighbor, or anyone in your life who struggles with addiction, remember, they didn’t choose it. Finally, addicts can and do recover, but practicing kindness, compassion, and open-mindedness is the best thing that you can do to help.
Kembali Recovery Center is here for you
If you or someone you know and love is struggling to get clean or to stay sober, Kembali Recovery Center can help. Our counselors and staff are available to answer any questions or concerns you have in regard to addiction, our Kembali programs, and the latest COVID/travel updates. Contact us for more information. Remember, you never have to do this alone.
Please note that due to fluctuating travel restrictions to and from Indonesia, our scheduling may change, but we will keep you informed along the way.