Everybody needs to understand that addiction is a disease and not a moral failing. I, better than anyone, have learned that the same people who would not hesitate to seek professional help for a physical illness will hesitate before seeking treatment for substance abuse because the first step always means admitting the problem.
Often, close friends and family members would also eagerly urge treatment for physical or even mental illness, but with substance abuse, they ask, "Why can't you just stop?" The right question to ask should be, "Where can you get help?"
I am proud to be able to provide that help, and my first task is usually to help patients understand how proud they should be for taking the first step towards recovery. Knowing that you try to hide substance abuse might be a source of shame, but working towards recovery should be a source of pride.
What Keeps People Away from Treatment?
A few people may have difficulty admitting they have a problem to themselves. However, I have seen plenty of patients who have no trouble recognizing their own destructive behavior. These individuals waited before seeking treatment because of very valid concerns over losing their jobs, losing the right to care for their children, and losing the respect of the people around them. In other words, they worried about the stigma attached to their previous behavior and how admitting it might impact their future.
Know Your Rights
The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits job discrimination against people with disabilities. These include mental and physical disabilities, and the law specifically includes recovering addicts and alcoholics. Employees who are currently enrolled in treatment or have successfully completed treatment can't get fired because of behavior before the treatment started.
Additionally, the Family and Medical Leave Act requires employers to grant time off for legitimate health-related reasons. Rather than indulge in concerns that seeking help will jeopardize employment, most addicts and alcoholics should probably be more concerned that a lack of treatment could ruin current and future employment prospects.
What if Children are Involved?
Most substance abusers are not violent or actively abusive, but it is not hard to argue that substance abuse often leads to the type of neglect that gets authorities involved. The solution for parents with concerns over their families is to seek treatment rather than avoid it.
One thing that caseworkers do when they assess cases is identify strengths that can help make a situation better, and a parent actively seeking treatment and working towards recovery is a strength. Untreated substance abuse is not.
How Does Treatment Help Overcome the Stigma of Substance Abuse?
If you struggle with substance abuse, you already confront fear of the future, guilt over past behavior, and shame because of what other people might think or do. You probably expend a lot of energy dealing with these negative and painful emotions too. The first step to take in order to put all of that behind you is to seek treatment from professional counselors.
I want to help my recovering patients feel pride because of their behavior, optimistic about the future, and joyful over relationships that may recover as an addict recovers. Recovery can be the beginning of a new stage or your life, better family relationships, more job prospects, and a life you can be proud of.