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[ Opinion ]

The Stigma of Addiction: Let’s End It Together

Back in the 1960’s when Narcotics Anonymous was just getting off the ground, members in the fellowship had to meet in secret for fear of being raided by police because recovering addicts weren’t allowed to meet in groups. As a society, we have made obvious strides since then, but sometimes it feels like we haven’t made much progress. The stigma attached to actively using and recovering addicts alike remains fierce and deep in 2016.

This fact was made clear to me a couple years ago when I was featured in a news story about heroin addiction in Lansing, Michigan. Upon sharing the article on their Facebook page, the news channel received dozens of comments from followers on the link. I would guess about 75 percent of them were extremely negative. One of them stood out to me: “Just let the addicts kill themselves. Why get heroin out of the streets when it is doing a good job of killing off the scum of society.”

Several people “liked” this comment, and many other relayed similar thoughts towards people dealing with the disease of addiction. I was stunned by how many people just in my community truly thought drug addicts were morally bankrupt thugs who were better off dead, rather than given a second chance at life. I was embarrassed that I was the main recovering addict featured in the story and sad that the Lansing community had so many people with intense hatred towards people just like me.

But after thinking it over for a couple days, I grew some thick skin and made a promise to myself that I would do my best to change society’s view on addicts. I and many people like me were good, smart, caring souls who made poor decisions, not people who deserved to die.

When I think about it, I realize it’s this societal view on addiction that causes so many addicts to remain in the grips of their addiction rather than seek help. Many are ashamed of admitting to any person they abuse drugs because they are sure whoever finds out will express this barbaric sentiment of hatred and damnation towards them. Why in anyone’s right mind would they want to try to get clean when getting sober can sometimes mean judgement from society?

That’s why I feel it is up to recovering addicts and people close to us to help change this. We know who we are. We know the potential that is stored inside of us. We know that we are good people. So why can’t we do everything we can to change the stigma that is holding so many people just like us back?

It’s time for us to stand up and show people that our addictions did not define us. We are sons, brothers, sisters, daughters, wives, husbands, contributing members of society, students, and much more. We are caring individuals who know what it’s like to walk through hell. Most importantly, we are people that can show society what we can do when we get sober and find recovery!

If you are in recovery today, don’t be ashamed to let others know you are sober. Don’t hold back in telling people how much you have overcome. Be an example that can help fight the stigma. Know that people just like you are depending on us to stand up and fight, to fight for their future. It’s going to take a lot of work and time, but we, one addict at a time, can stand up and fight this stigma together. Let’s end it together.

-Aaron Emerson is an author and blogger who writes about addiction and recovery. You can check out his blog and sign up for his Hope From Dope newsletter at www.aaronemersonblog.com and follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/hopefromdope. 

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