Recovery is a paradox. During treatment and early phases of recovery, saying the words “I am an addict” is a powerful way to help people understand that their lives have become unmanageable and that they need help.
However,during later phases of recovery, the same phrase can prompt some people to define themselves solely by their addiction.
The challenge for addicted people, their families, and those who treat them is to recognize that while self-identifying as an addicted person can be liberating, viewing oneself only as an addicted person can be self-limiting.
The treatment and recovery communities can help recovering people grow by recognizing that they have a disease but are not defined by that disease.
Recovery is about becoming more than an addict;it is about becoming a caring husband or wife, a loving father or mother, or perhaps a better son or daughter.
Helping people achieve healthy biopsychosocial and spiritual lives and helping them to recognize that they have the capacity to do so is the greatest tool we have to prevent and reduce stigma.
STIGMA: ROADBLOCKS ON THE JOURNEY OF RECOVERY
For most people, the journey of recovery from addiction is not easy. Recovering people typically encounter numerous obstacles along the way. These include medical problems, psychological challenges, family issues, criminal justice and legal problems, and work-related issues.
For some recovering people, these obstacles have sufficient power to force them off the path of recovery. Similarly, people in recovery often experience stigma, which can likewise jeopardize their recovery. Thus, during a time when people need a lot of support, encouragement, and love, stigma can diminish people’s ability to follow a path of health regarding the body, mind, and spirit.
Stigma can come from within and outside.
Stigma From Within Addicted people’s lives have become unmanageable. They may experience low self-esteem as they recognize how much their lives have become unmanageable and how much they have hurt themselves and others. They may feel like victims or blame themselves and feel that they don’t have the power to get better.
Stigma From The Recovering Community
Although the processes of addiction and recovery are more similar than different among different drugs, recovering people stigmatize one another. Some people recovering from alcohol addiction stigmatize people recovering from crack cocaine and heroin, much as some recovering people who smoked or drank their drug look down on injection drug users. People in recovery might say, “I would never smoke crack,” or “I only drank beer and never did an illicit drug.”
Solution: Break The Silence
As is true of addiction, treatment, and recovery, stigma is a complex and dynamic process. There is no single or simple solution, but there is power in breaking the silence.
Speaking out is central to the prevention and reduction of stigma. On the most basic level, stigma prevention involves people in recovery, treatment providers and advocates, and people concerned about stigma speaking out. There is power in people telling their stories. Perceptions can change. Attitudes can shift. Behaviors can be modified. Knowledge can be increased. But none of these will happen unless people speak out.
When people speak out, the power of stigma is diminished. When people tell their stories, others struggling with recovery receive encouragement, recognize that someone else has taken this journey, and perceive that they too can stay on the journey to recovery. It gives people in recovery hope.