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[ Opinion ] [ Personal Narratives ]

A Plea To End The Stigma

I’m new to the addiction treatment center world. Had you asked me three months ago what I thought went on behind these doors, I’m not sure what I would have said. I can admit though, that my answer would have been full of bias.

My view on addiction was sheltered. I had volunteered in downtown Red Deer a few times serving supper, and had seen the mostly homeless population struggle. But that was about the extent of my first-hand knowledge. In my head, I was quick to group together the type of people I thought addiction affected, based on my very small experience. I had witnessed the most visible group of that population and had generalized from there. 

I’m here today, to admit, that I was wrong.

I work in marketing at a private treatment center and don’t have a lot of one-on-one interaction with the participants. But I do see them move about their days, heading to class, socializing in the common area, or making their way to the dining hall for lunch. As they approach their graduation date, I will occasionally have a one-on-one with them, to write up their addiction obituaries. But I definitely do not have the same close relationship with them, that the counselors and other staff do.

So when I posted a news story about our new detox center opening, and it immediately garnered a bunch of attention, I was surprised by my reaction to some of the immediate comments. One comment was along the line of, “junkies don’t have enough money to go to treatment”. Immediately, I felt myself take offence to the word “junkie.” To label someone purely on an addiction, just felt wrong to me. All of a sudden, a word that had never affected me, suddenly left a very bad taste in my mouth.

I tumbled that thought around in my head that afternoon. What was it about a simple comment, that bugged me so much? Then it hit me. Suddenly, the people that went to treatment centers were not just unknowns. They had faces I saw in the halls. They had names that came across my emails. They had families that visited on the weekend. These were not “junkies.” They were young adults barely past their teenage years, they were financial professionals and mountain climbing enthusiasts. They were grandmas and moms. They were artists and brothers. Go outside for a walk and look around your neighbourhood. They are those people.

As I reached this point of writing this post, a flyer randomly showed up on my desk. Recovery Day Red Deer was hosting an upcoming screening of the movie The Anonymous People, so I pulled up the video to see what it was about. I was stunned. Here was EXACTLY what I had been trying to convey through my words. It seemed like a sign, that I needed to finish writing my thoughts and maybe help alter even one other person’s view.

There are so many bad images and words used to describe addiction, but I want to challenge you to see the other side. The people who go to treatment are not those things and they are not defined solely by their addiction. They are people who have fought very hard, to overcome their disease and make a better life for themselves and their loved ones. That in turn, makes our communities (and world) a better place.

I may not know a lot about addiction or recovery yet, but I do know one thing for sure – continuing to label people will never help. In fact an article by Harvard Health Publications, states that the negative stigma can actually deter people from seeking treatment.

I challenge you to instead have a bit of compassion, and help create awareness. In the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s report, substance abuse disorders are listed as the second most prevalent mental health issue. That means that of the 6.7 million people affected by mental health issues in Canada, 2 million of those are people with substance abuse or addiction problems. With numbers this high, you never know when it will be your family, friends or loved ones that will need that little bit of acceptance, to ultimately ask for help and seek addiction treatment.