We’ve all been affected by the negative stigmas surrounding addiction and alcoholism.
“You’re weak.” “Can’t you just stop?” “You’re crazy.”
Nobody even had to say these things to me, sometimes these were thoughts in my own head. “What’s wrong with me?” I felt like I had no self control, that I lacked basic human morals. I felt like I was a bad person.
It wasn’t until I went to treatment and started my recovery journey that I learned about what addiction truly is. The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines addiction as “a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences.”
Despite the understanding of addiction as a disease, it’s still misunderstood as a character flaw or moral failing. About 1 in 10 people over the age of 12 in the U.S. have a substance abuse problem, yet it’s still something we, as a nation, don’t talk about.
Grammy Award-winning rap artist Macklemore, who is an addict in recovery, sat down with President Barack Obama this past week to talk about the disease of addiction in the United States, and what we can do to help. You can check out the video at the end of this article.
Currently, drug overdoses take more lives every year than traffic accidents. Deaths from opiate overdoses have tripled in the past 15 years, and these opiates are often prescribed by a doctor. In America, 44% of people know someone who has been addicted to prescription painkillers.
The President cautions, “addiction doesn’t always start in some dark alley, it often starts in a medicine cabinet.”
The severity of the problem is staring us in the face. Yet, amongst the almost 3 million people in America who need treatment for addiction, only 11% received it.
The President talks about efforts to make care more accessible—providing first-responders with proper medications to reduce overdose deaths, informing doctors and patients about the addictive power and risks of opioid pain medications, expanding insurance plans to include addiction treatment, and changing the law enforcement system to get people into treatment instead of jail.
But what can be done to help someone who doesn’t want help? Macklemore talks about the power of shame and stigma, keeping addicts and alcoholics silent when we need to find help. Obama and Macklemore are adamant—we need to make our conversation about addiction public, and we need to acknowledge opioid abuse as a public health problem.
As Macklemore so beautifully states, “addiction isn’t a personal choice or a personal failing, and sometimes it takes more than a strong will to get better. It takes a strong community and accessible resources.”
With greater knowledge and public conversation, addiction can become a public health concern. Addicts and alcoholics need to feel comfortable asking for help just like any other person battling with a disease or serious health concern. Deaths from opioid overdoses are preventable. When we fight to break down the stigmas around addiction, it becomes okay to ask for help.