Release the Shame of Addiction

Our society has viewed those with addiction and their families with shame and indifference. We continue to look away and become disgusted when substance abuse is not controlled or managed.
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I am a daughter, a sister, a wife and a mother of a multi-generational illness. I have lost my father, my brother and in 2012 my 29 year-old son to an illness that affects all ethnic, economic and educational groups. My family is the collateral damage of addiction and with each passing day, other families are losing their loved ones to an illness that is a national crisis like no other.

Our society has viewed those with addiction and their families with shame and indifference. We continue to look away and become disgusted when substance abuse is not controlled or managed. We view relapses as failures and a waste of money. This continued viewpoint is destructive not only for those with addiction but for all of society.

Policy dictates where money goes for research, training and care. Policy decisions keep the public uneducated and policy decisions keep us ashamed of our loved ones. Is there really going to be another generation of young people that are not going to get the care that they need?

Because of the stigma of addiction, research has failed to keep pace, medical professionals are poorly trained, health insurance is inadequate and public policies are ineffective. Individuals are dying at an alarming rate and yet many view incarceration as the answer to this health crisis. There is no other condition where personal responsibility is so hotly debated. We are taught to detach and let our loved ones hit rock bottom as we cross our fingers. There is no other illness where we force the patient to make his own way and create policy to decide who can or cannot seek emergency care.

A national organization like no other was introduced to the public this month -- Shatterproof: Stronger than Addiction. This is the first national organization to address the drug and alcohol crisis head on. They do not accept the status quo or accept the current stigma of shame. They expect addiction to be on par with every other illness. They expect loved ones to be treated with respect and dignity just like anyone else suffering from an illness.

When individuals with illness are viewed with compassion and understanding, there is hope to get better. We look for solutions, we demand research studies, we expect good care, we create policies that work and we respect and bring hope and dignity to those that are ill. As we release the shame of addiction, we break the stigma and bring hope to those that struggle.

We can continue to place blame and argue about the causes of drug and alcohol abuse and look away or we can look directly at the faces of addiction. They are the faces of our loved ones; they are the faces of an illness that has been masked in shame much too long.

We need to stop the cycle of drugs and alcohol and consolidate the research, medical expertise and create polices that work. There are pockets of knowledge in the scientific community but advances are not clearly communicated to physicians or to the public and people are dying as a result. We are not sharing all that we know about prevention, treatment and recovery. Grassroots events in isolation are not enough; we need a national organization like Shatterproof: Stronger than Addiction to find cures that work and demand that everyone has access to the help that they need.

Researchers are beginning to make some headway in their understanding of drug and alcohol addiction, the medical field is beginning to take notice and the policy makers have opened a door to listen. It is time to start a true shame free dialogue that brings to light prevention programs that work, treatment that is individualized and affordable to all and recovery that is supported by insurance and society.