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Addiction: Stigma and Shame

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The stigma of struggling with addiction should not prevent anyone from asking for help. Assuming that responsibility is a task for the person suffering with addiction. Meanwhile, until they manages to understand what exactly is going on, they will remain in a defensive position and would not believe that help can indeed exist. For they do not believe they can live their lives without a drug of choice.

Simply put, they does not believe. They victimise themselves, choose the known routine and practice denial and justification with linguistic sports. In the long-term, the spiral will continue and death is almost inevitable. The ones who experienced that know it well. Those who are in recovery say without fear that they left hell. Why are we still ashamed, as society, to face addiction within its proper normality?

I have heard Mikes Reis, the CEO and founder of DecisionPoint, speaking about the stigma and younger generations. He said in an interview that ‘the biggest factor that prevents many people from obtaining the help they need is the stigma associated to being labelled as an addict. This is especially true among the oldest populations that isolate themselves and feel enormous shame.’

Surprisingly, the millennium’s generation is leading the way to remove social stigma. I have learned a great deal with the ‘millennials’ that came via our intensive clinic programme at DecisionPoint in Georgia.

They are establishing connections among themselves and also with the ones in recovery, by means of technology and social networks. The ‘millennials’ openly share their stories about recovery and daily journeys on the internet. Contrary to previous generations which enter recovery via AA’s (Alcoholics Anonymous) anonymity, the millennium’s generation does not feel the need to be ‘chained’ to such traditions. They are more focused in being individuals and constructing a supporting community. It is common to watch them proudly posting their sober birthdays on Facebook.

The ‘millennials’ seem to understand that the way of maintaining their sobriety in long term is to publicly share their personal stories as survivors, and bring the truth to the centre of attentions, creating a supporting community, By doing that, they are helping others in understanding that dependency is a sickness that needs to be treated as such, without shame.

Many of the so-called ‘millennium generation’ simply do not care much about what others may think. The testimony of a 30 years old heroin addict tells us she alone asked for help because and quoting: ‘Luckily for me, I never cared much in knowing what society thinks of me and as a result never felt any shame in going to rehabilitation. My world consisted solely of other addicts, and that could be my only shame.’

Of what I am ashamed is of people in this country being so harshly judged for being addicted. As someone that works now at a rehabilitation clinic and deals with people with addiction, also in my personal life I have seen the devastation that addiction does and how everyone suffers from that. The majority of people with addiction, once cleaned are extremely lovable, careful, and productive people. They simply need to be taught how to live without using drugs or alcohol. In this respect, rehabilitation is quite useful for it teaches people with addiction (a phrase that I use to everyone that suffers from any substance dependency, including alcohol) about their addiction, and the ways to deal without the crutch of their substance.

All these depositions are vital to understand that the most important is to be able to openly speak about the problem, raising awareness among population that stigma and shame only worsens the situation considerably, showing the public entities that addiction is neither a ‘theme’ or a ‘problem’.

It is a sickness and as such should be treated with the same normality as any other disease. It is certainly not something we would like to have, see or feel close to just like any other disease. But we must have the courage to stare into the eyes, not to blame, gather strength to seek for help without the stigma and shame as we do when we talk someone to the doctor.

‘Millennium’ society manages to show already some backbone. Without soft words or subjugation to the stigma.

Let us start in Portugal by creating physical spaces and proper public information. I defend an integrated clinic, practised by professionals – something that currently does not exist – beyond the centres. It is a National Service of Intervention, to which families can resort to without inhibitions.

We all need addiction to stop being a ‘current theme’ and become a routine instead, in which every citizen should know how to deal with. After all, in Portugal alcoholism is a devastating disease in which numerous attenuates exist solely based on the disinformation and ignorance of the more educated population. From there, all is said.

Ana Pinto-Coelho is an addiction counsellor. Ana finished her degree from the University of Oxford and is committed to advancing her profession in Portugal.


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