One of the biggest barriers to patients getting help is the stigma of addiction. The stigma is so pervasive that many family members also resist seeking help for a loved one and for themselves out of fear of discrimination, shame from feeling like a failure or embarrassment from being judged by others. This happens too often resulting in too many families destroyed.
Addiction affects many individuals and families. But, it doesn’t have to be this way. And it begins with sharing our stories, better public education and a broader sense of acceptance of addiction as a treatable disease similar to diabetes, heart disease, etc.
Read what these five parents had to say about the stigma of addiction:
I have felt shame about having a child who is an addict. It’s one of the toughest emotions I’ve had to deal with. The ignorance of others; neighbors, friends, family, etc., is frustrating and can make you feel bad about yourself. I’ve found that reading the Intervene blog and going to Alanon meetings have been a big help.
Family members and friends do not understand. They try, but society and media have them convinced that there is something amoral or weak about addicts. I get asked,”Why would he do this to you?” “Why do you allow him to live this way?” I am perceived as a bad parent by many, and I have been completely torn apart by some neighbors on a very public social network. My son is considered by many to just be a problem that society doesn’t need. I tell my friends and family, “It was his choice to try heroin the first time. That was his very bad choice. After that, he had no choice.” No one would choose death or jail if it wasn’t a disease. Anyone who can’t see that, well, they are the problem.
We spent years hiding from our son’s addiction. We denied it , we were ashamed of it, we tried protecting him from it, if we could have disappeared we would have. That strategy served no one well.
When we were able to overcome our shame we were finally able to take the first steps forward in helping ourselves and being in a place to help him when the time comes. We also began to realize that when people ask about our son it was because they cared about us and they cared about him. It isn’t fair to shut out these people that care for us because we are ashamed and embarrassed. I actually wrote a posting for The Partnership about overcoming your shame.
For me, sometimes the hardest part is the isolation. There are so few people with whom I can share my thoughts and feelings about this. Unless someone lives with addiction, it is hard to relate. Even the most caring person hardly knows what to say. Granted, most people who say the “wrong” thing are simply uninformed. But I barely have the strength to cope with my situation much less have to hear these (often) well-meaning, but usually off the mark comments. So rather than expose myself to more pain, I have learned to limit my sharing. I am trying harder to be grateful for those I do have with whom I can share. And I am looking for an avenue to influence a shift in society’s attitude towards addiction.
I noticed something about being the parent of someone who is addicted to drugs. It is a very lonely thing. If my child had any other disease, the people in my life would be surrounding me with comfort and support. Because my son has the disease of addiction I am left to deal with it on my own… I notice that even if I have a problem with my son that does NOT concern addiction, the others in my life still don’t seem to want to help because of, I assume the trouble he has caused in the past because of his addiction.
Did your family experience any stigma around your child’s addiction?
How did it affect you? How did you overcome it? Please share your experience in the comments below.