By Denise Woods
Have you ever kept something from someone because you feel like if they found out then they would shame you, judge you, or humiliate you because you made a choice that turned out to be a bad choice for you? Have you ever been embarrassed to admit that the choices you’ve made has hurt your family and friends? Have you ever not gone somewhere for fear that someone will see you there?
These statements are describing STIGMA. Webster’s dictionary describes stigma as: “A mark of shame or discredit.” Webster also describes stigma as “An identifying mark or characteristic; specifically: a specific diagnostic sign of a disease.” Addiction is a disease! If we think about addiction in the same sense of heart disease, diabetes, or cancer, we might be able to better understand the basis of addiction.
Diabetes, for example, is mainly caused by not eating healthy foods and not being physically active. Diabetes can also be caused by heredity. Although, some people who understand what causes diabetes will still choose to eat unhealthy resulting in out of control A1c levels. Sweets and carbs are just so good. This disease is not a moral failure. We do not shame someone because they have diabetes, heart disease or cancer. We help them. If your doctor told you that you had heart disease you wouldn’t think you were a bad person. You would say to yourself, “How can I overcome this disease?”
Addiction is the same way. Although there may be many addictions in society, let’s focus on substance use addictions. Webster’s dictionary describes addiction as: “The compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance.” When someone chooses to first use a drug they do not intend to become addicted to it. Tobacco, for example, may first be used in youthful years to look cool or to be part of the “in” crowd, and before long the nicotine has got that person hooked. Prescription drugs, for example, may first be used to ease pain and before long that person is hooked and needs more of the pills to maintain the pain. Other drugs such as Methamphetamine or Cocaine may be used because a friend offered it to them or because of the pleasure it makes someone feel and right away and that person is hooked. That is addiction!
Addiction can also be hereditary. A web article (www.addictionandrecovery.org) explains genetics and addictions stating that addiction is due to 50 percent to genetic predisposition and 50 percent to poor coping skills. One study looked at 861 identical twin pairs and 653 fraternal (non-identical) twin pairs. When one identical twin was addicted to alcohol, the other twin had a high probability of being addicted. But when one non-identical twin was addicted to alcohol, the other twin did not necessarily have an addiction. Based on the differences between the identical and non-identical twins, the study showed 50-60 percent of addiction is due to genetic factors. (Prescott, C. A., & Kendler, K. S., Genetic and environmental contributions to alcohol abuse and dependence in a population-based sample of male twins. Am J Psychiatry, 1999. 156(1): p. 34-40.)
The children of addicts are eight times more likely to develop an addiction. One study looked at 231 people who were diagnosed with drug or alcohol addiction, and compared them to 61 people who did not have an addiction. Then it looked at first-degree relatives (parents, siblings, or children) of those people. It discovered that if a parent has a drug or alcohol addiction, the child had an eight times greater chance of developing an addiction. (Merikangas, K. R., Stolar, M., Stevens, D. E., Goulet, J., et al., Familial transmission of substance use disorders. Arch Gen Psychiatry, 1998. 55(11): p. 973-9.)
Addiction is not a moral failure but our society tends to shame someone because they have an addiction. Why do you think an addict continues to use? One reason could be because abusers are welcoming to help someone feed their addiction. They are not judged by their use. They are not shamed or shunned by their use. They support it. Addiction does not choose who it targets. It is waiting on the next person to grab hold of. Once the object of addiction is used the brain and body craves it again and again resulting in feeding it with more of the substance. Once addiction grabs someone’s life it does not want to let go. It does not matter who you are or where you come from. Addiction can affect anyone.
The stigma of addiction results in people who have the disease do not seek treatment. If someone has cancer, treatment is the first option. Why not help someone seek treatment for an addiction? Other negative results of the stigma of addiction are harm reduction, self-esteem and mental health. Long-term use of marijuana lowers a person’s IQ by eight points, resulting in reduction of thinking, memory, and learning functions (www.drugabuse.gov). Stigma attacks someone’s self-esteem and mental health, making them feel worthless and sometimes results in death, leaving families saddened at the loss of a loved one.
Johnson County has a lot of substance use addictions. Instead of spreading the word about who is the next person to get caught using or distributing the drugs, we should be spreading resources to those who have the disease of addiction. Our county is improving when it comes to available recovery resources. The following is a list of recovery meetings and help lines.
“I Am Responsible”: “AA” meeting 7pm at Mountain City Community Center on Mondays and Thursdays.
Righteous Cause Recovery: (Faith Based) 6pm meeting and meal at Dyson Grove Church Fellowship Hall on 1st and 3rd Thursday of each month.
Ala-Non (support group for families): 12-1pm meeting at First Christian Church every Tuesday
Tennessee REDLINE: Information and referral hotline (1-800-889-9789)
Tennessee Tobacco Quitline (1-800-QUIT-NOW or 1-800-784-8669)
Marijuana Addiction: (1-866-470-4253)
HOPE (National Hopeline Network for suicide prevention): (1-800-781-2433)
A.C.T.I.O.N Coalition, Inc. 423-727-0780 (drug info on treatment, general info, and Rx lock box distribution)
If Johnson County does not begin to reduce the stigma of substance addictions it WILL tear our community apart person by person. Families are hurting. We need everyone doing their part to reduce drug use in Johnson County. If you would like to know more about A.C.T.I.O.N. Coalition and our efforts to reduce drug use in Johnson County, The next coalition meeting will be on November 28th from 11:30am-1pm at the Johnson County Health Department Annex. Everyone is welcome to attend.
In light of the recent drug activities in our community, the A.C.T.I.O.N Coalition would like to rally our community to stand up and say enough is enough. Drug use is negatively impacting our community and our families. These two men made a choice that has affected their families and the community, but they are not the only ones. There have been others that have chosen this path but because they are leaders in our community their choices have brought light to this issue of drug use in our community. Drug addiction does not pick and choose whom it affects. It can affect young, old, male, female, parent, grandparent, pastor, lawyer, teacher, and yes even a law enforcement officer. Being aware of how easy it is to become addicted to prescription pills is part of preventing addiction from happening. Educate yourself on the dangers of all drug use. Johnson County needs to talk about the issue and not be judge and jury to these men. Good people make mistakes too.
By Denise Woods