Despite being defined as a “primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry,” by the American Society of Addiction Medicine, and by the Institute on Drug Abuse as a “chronic, relapsing brain disease,” addiction still carries with it a negative association. This stigma of addiction wraps itself around these individuals and tightens the chokehold of the addiction itself.
In general, society views addiction opposite its definition by credible sources, they see it as a choice, a moral failing, a character flaw. They see a person who will give up anything, has given up everything, just to get high. Unsympathetic, they see weakness as the addict seeks out their substance, often jeopardizing their lives and the lives of their loved ones. In a way, it’s understandable since on the surface, they see addicts acting much differently than their friend/mother/uncle/cousin suffering from cancer/heart disease/diabetes. They see an addict, a junkie, a fiend, seeking out the drug or alcohol because they choose to, they fail to look past the action, to the miswired brain that doesn’t feel normal until it gets the substance to which it is addicted.
Because of this stigma, the disease of addiction comes with an automatic punch in the gut: the burden of being treated like a second-class citizen even after they are in recovery. It is because of this stigma that:
Being in recovery often comes with a negative label. In their mind, their friends and family will think less of them and maybe even abandon them, leaving them bewildered in a time when they need support, understanding, compassion and encouragement the most. This leads to an individual feeling even more ostracized, alone and rejected, which in turn drives them to seek out the substance to numb or bury the emotions.
Even when an addict does complete treatment, and maintains recovery, they are always presumed to be on the verge of a relapse, unstable, “once an addict…” This has a detrimental impact on the lives of those in recovery, how they interact with their friends and family (and vice versa) and in social settings, it’s uncomfortable. If the stigma did not exist, the label wouldn’t last a lifetime, and those suffering from addiction might be more inclined to seek treatment.
Patients are often encouraged to seek treatment outside the medical community, such as with a 12-step program based on non-scientific practices. Some individuals struggling with addiction will be successful with non-medical programs, but a great many suffer from more deeply-rooted emotional issues and brain functions that need the attention from medical and mental health professionals to begin to overcome their addiction.
Unresolved negative emotions are known to produce inner conflict; many of these emotions begin in early childhood, and an addict can become tangled in self-criticism as a result. Without proper treatment, these individuals do not have the ability to cope, their coping mechanism is the drug. It is a vicious cycle, but emotional and physical addictions often go hand in hand, and usually both need professional treatment.
This is unacceptable.
As of April 2013, there were 2,383 drug court programs in operation in the United States, and another 198 were being planned. Of 3,143 counties in the US at that time, less than half of them have drug courts, and the drug courts that do exist only have capacity to serve 10 percent of the addicted offenders estimated to be in need.
That isn’t good enough.
Drug courts have real potential when it comes to helping addicts stay clean and out of trouble. Roughly 70 percent of the approximately 120,000 addicted individuals who enter drug court with the assistance of their defense attorney complete it in about a year. Also, they are twice as likely to stay sober compared to a newly released inmate, and 75 percent of them remain arrest free.
The benefits of drug courts reach more than just the addict; these benefits support healthier families and improve employment, and drug courts also save. With every $1 invested in drug court, $3.36 are saved by the justice system and up to $12 (per $1 investment) are saved by the community on reduced emergency room visits and other medical care and property loss. Drug courts produce cost savings ranging from $3,000-13,000 per client by reducing prison costs, reduced revolving-door arrests and trials and reduced victimization. Source.
But, strides are being made!
Before, most addiction treatment was not covered by medical insurance providers. But now the playing field is being leveled, because for the first time, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, most addiction services and other behavioral health disorders are mandatory for all insurers. This is proof that addiction is being viewed as a disease, and there is acknowledgment that it is treatable.
This is very, very good news.
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