Help end stigma “….to understand how and why certain users had lost control I would have to tackle the all-important question of how and why so many others had managed to achieve control and maintain it.” -Norman Zinberg, Drug, Set, and Setting

The simple fact is, nobody sets out to become an addict!

Alcohol and recreational drugs are an indisputable part of the world we live in. A bottle of bubbly to toast an occasion, a cold one with the guys after the game, or a bottle of red with a celebratory meal, is as innocuous as birthday cake and ice cream, something that can be safely consumed and enjoyed. This is reality for most of us but, for a few of us, a small but significant percentage, it will lead to disaster. Most of us, usually still in our teens, having observed the adults in our lives partaking, are drawn to the party scene and the apparent festivity of it all. Most of us will also be able to navigate this adult world, where becoming intoxicated is a common activity, but for some of us, substances as innocuous as alcohol or marijuana, can trigger life long addiction.

What do I mean by addiction?

Addiction is the compulsive use of drugs or alcohol despite obvious harm to one’s wellbeing. This seems totally ridiculous to those of us who have not experienced the severe cravings of an addict or the strikingly absurd warning sign, blatant denial. Denial is the common defensive response of all addicts, as natural as breathing, so desperate to be anonymous, to avoid, or at least temper, debilitating feelings of shame, grief, confusion, and disappointment. Addiction is a complex brain disorder that affects our perception, behaviour, and impulse control. An addict cannot recover without acceptance, mindful effort, medical guidance, and the patient support of family and friends.

It’s very common to blame people with addictions, and other mental health problems, for creating their own problems. The ill will toward people with substance use disorders is extraordinary. Stigmatization and discrimination lead to alienation. Sadly, believe it or not, stigma is the leading cause of death for addicts. Shame and self-loathing lead the addict to avoid medical help! Statistics show that only 1 in 10 people with substance disorders will seek help.

The behaviour of the addict leads to alienation.

They may lie, steal, manipulate, and cheat, in a lame effort to hide, while doing what they need to do to feed their addiction. They will very likely go to treatment, recover, and relapse, more times than most supporters will find the patience to endure. The stigma of addiction is felt acutely in the way we, family and friends, treat the addict, the way the addict treats themselves, and finally in the way they’re treated by social institutions, doctors and counsellors.

Who can blame anyone for avoiding a drunk liar who appears bound and determined to destroy everything! We naturally want to protect ourselves from people like this, but the paradox is that these people need us to defend them, they won’t survive without our help. They need us to be non-judgemental and accepting, offering them hope for an alternative future.

“My destination is no longer a place, rather a new way of seeing.” -Marcel Proust

www.canada.ca/opioids

Canada’s opioid crisis. Learn about opioids and the health risks. End stigma campaign

See also: First Steps to rehab: Meditation, Contact Us, The Basics, The Program & What are “concurrent disorders”?