The Stigma of Drug Addiction
According to statistics provided by The National Institute on Drug Abuse, nearly 23 million U.S. citizens over the age of 12 were addicted to an illegal or prescribed drug in 2011.
Marijuana was the most commonly abused drug, with prescription pain relievers and tranquilizers representing the second most abused substances. Epidemic in scope, drug addiction continues to devastate the lives of people existing at all socioeconomic levels, from the poorest inner-city single mother to the well-paid CEO of a Fortune 500 company.
Substance addiction, just like any other medical disease, does not discriminate and further, shows no mercy to its victim. It is a chronic disease that is biopsychosocial in nature and demands the assistance of a wide range of professionals experienced in treating psychological and emotional issues promoting addictive behaviors.
Following detoxification, intense counseling, psychoeducation and therapy involving enhancement of coping skills so that relapse may be prevented, recovering addicts must re-enter society as sober, productive individuals who hopefully have a renewed sense of meaning, purpose and understanding regarding their disease.
Unfortunately, the stigma of having a drug-addicted past along with being labeled a drug addict and all the negative connotations associated with that label makes it extremely difficult for a recovering addict to live a prejudice-free life .
Being stigmatized because of myths and stereotypes that continue to persist even though a wealth of substantiated information exists that shows drug addiction is a chronic disease and not a choice means that recovering addicts face an uphill battle when attempting to integrate themselves into society.
With ignorance, close-mindedness and fear of the disease of drug addiction fueling the use of denigrating words to describe someone suffering from addiction–junkie, meth head and deadbeat, just to name a few–recovering addicts not only need to cope with maintaining their sobriety but also with being constantly suspected of reverting to their old habit.
Moreover, the stigma of drug addiction is further exacerbated by its association with the criminal justice system and stereotypes perpetuated by exploitative television shows that fail to explain the neurochemical and psychological aspects of drug addiction.
Fortunately, addiction recovery therapists understand the problems faced by recovering addicts in regards to the stigmatization of a disease that, like cancer or a genetic disorder, is not a “choice”.
By providing patients with the tools necessary to cope with life after recovery, addiction specialists hope to instill the fortitude and high level of self-worth needed to survive in a society that still has a lot to learn about treating recovering addicts with the same respect afforded to anyone else.
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