I was offering some moral support to a mother yesterday who had a news crew coming over to interview her about the addiction epidemic in her community. One of the things that I said to reassure her is “just remember, you have the science on your side.”
I woke up this morning thinking about that statement. In many ways, knowing that I have the science on my side is what empowers me to keep up the fight to educate, prevent, raise awareness and build compassion around addiction and mental health issues. My thoughts are not my opinions or beliefs. They are based on the findings of the world’s leading experts in the field. That’s empowering.
R. Gil Kerlikowske, a USA drug policy leader, talked about this very thing during a talk he gave in 2012:
“We know from the research that is conducted by some of the world’s leading neuroscientists that drug addiction is not a moral failing on the part of the individual. It is a chronic disease of the brain and it can be treated. This isn’t my opinion and it is not a political statement. It is not really open to debate because the evidence is clear and it is unequivocal. It is a fact borne out by decades of study and research and it is a fact that neither government nor the public can ignore.”
Of course, public perception is something very different, which is why the disease of addiction is highly stigmatized and getting help is not easy. Public perception drives public policy. We have a long way to go to educate, prevent, raise awareness and build compassion in our communities. I am one voice. There are many others as well who are contributing in their own way. I have no doubt that our work is opening the minds and hearts of our fellow citizens and politicians who have the power to address the issue and improve the lives of Islanders. Let’s keep talking!
If you would like to further your understanding of addiction, here are some great resources to check out:
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH): Addiction
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA): Principles of Effective Treatment
Canadian Medical Association Journal: Addiction is a Disease: We Must Change Our Attitudes Toward Addicts
Renegade Mothering: We Don’t Start With Needles in Our Arms *
Addiction medications are also highly stigmatized, even though they are some of the most effective treatments, especially when combined with good rehab programs. Much of the negativity has to do with the fact that we only hear about the bad stuff (people selling their medication, overdoses, etc.). We might be reluctant to support treatment for any disease if we only ever heard about the bad things and never the good. For example, if all we ever heard about cancer treatment is that patients get really sick, lose their hair, and then die of the disease, would we be supportive of the treatment being offered? Probably not. Thankfully, we hear about many success stories so we are supportive of the treatments being offered.
There are success stories with addiction medications as well but those who have success move on and don’t talk about it because of the stigmas attached to both the medication and the disease of addiction. They should be proud of how far they’ve come, but we rob them of that with our judgements. We should celebrate recovery regardless of how one has found it. There is no room for beliefs in the treatment of disease!
While I hope that everyone reads the information provided above, it is especially important for families going through it. The more you know, the better off you'll be in dealing with the disease. Knowledge is power.
*While Renegade Mothering is not a professional source of information, the author does an amazing job of explaining the disease in ways that people can understand. It is based on her personal experience with alcoholism.