Addiction is such a stigmatized topic – yet people are so uninformed about it. Most of us were taught that “drugs are bad,” but that is about the most education we get or tend to remember. I am here to discuss the concept of the disease of addiction which goes far beyond the common stigmas about who “addicts” are.
Yes, addiction is a disease due to the fact it is ongoing, not curable (only treatable), and a condition associated with signs and symptoms.
Just like other diseases, it may run rampant in some families. Babies are sometimes directly affected if they are born while a parent is actively using substances. Some others have become victims of the opioid epidemic by trusting medical providers that were responsible for their care, without knowing the addictive personality or predispositions of some clients.
People sometimes ask: “Why can’t people stop? Why won’t they just stop using or drinking?” If it were that easy, we would not have an epidemic. In 2019, nearly 70,000 people in the United States died from opioid-involved overdoses including prescription pain relievers, heroin, and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, according to the National Institutes of Health.
The addictive nature and side effects/symptoms make these substances challenging to recover from. This is important to know because although taking any drug is usually a choice, people still can become powerless to drugs and alcohol.
If you have lost someone to overdose, know that there are psychologists, nurses, counselors, recovery coaches, etc. who wake up every day to provide treatment, care, or support to those struggling with addiction and mental health, which go hand in hand. Many of these professionals are in this field due to experiencing addiction first-hand or having a passion to help due to knowing someone who struggles with addiction.
Please do not be embarrassed to mourn those you have lost; more people relate to this than you can imagine. In fact, more than 23 million adults in the nation have struggled with drug use, according to the NIH. Be vocal about it because it allows others to not feel alone.
If you are personally battling or know someone who is, Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous attendance are a great start for many people. These free non-judgmental groups welcome people to work on their issues in a safe space.
There are also numerous programs – including many that can be found here on HealthyMindsPhilly – that can offer additional information and assistance, including Narcan training to help treat an opioid overdose immediately.
About the Author: Kristal DeFeo is a behavioral health and addiction specialist/therapist for the past 12 years as well as a life coach.