For starters, I have no problem discussing my experience with opioids. I’m very open about it -- I don’t try to hide it in the least.
But the other day, I spoke to a man who was an alcoholic for years, and he told me how, because of the stigmas associated with alcoholism, he can’t be as open with his past. He told me how it affects his job prospects, his standing in the community, his circle of friends, etc.
He said that while he owns the fact that he was a former addict, he can’t risk the threat to his livelihood by being as open about it as he would like. Due to the stigma not just of alcoholism but of addiction in general, he has to be cautious about sharing his past.
Stigmas are real, and they’re painful. It’s easy to look at someone who was an addict, and though you know nothing about them or their lives, judge them for that label.
I’ve come across that as I’ve shared my experience with opioids, and though most people are understanding and compassionate, there have been a few who think less of me because of my past.
Although every case is different, there are three things to take into account when looking at someone who was or is an opioid addict. Three things to help you realize addiction isn’t as cut and dried as you may have been led to believe.
1. Addiction doesn’t always come from abusing the medication.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse said this about opioids: “When abused, prescription and OTC drugs can be addictive and put abusers at risk for other adverse health effects.”
I completely disagree. Opioids are addictive because it’s in their nature to be -- not because unresponsible people set out to abuse them. The ingredients in opioids are dangerously addictive, and that’s why it’s so crucial that they’re monitored closely by health professionals.
And that brings me to my next point.
2. Some doctors don’t responsibly prescribe opioids.
Mine didn’t. Not at all. He profited greatly off my opioid use, and though the pills were incredibly damaging to me, he did his best to keep me on them indefinitely.
He didn’t care about the addiction that ensued as a result of taking opioids long-term; he only cared about the checks that came to him every month. When I needed more and more to prevent horrible withdrawals, he realized this might affect him and his license. He then lectured me thoroughly, refusing to up the dose.
He put me in a world of trouble, and though I know now that I need to take my health into my own hands and not just trust doctors to have my best interests in mind, I didn’t then. I was only 22 years old.
3. It’s incredibly difficult, if not impossible, for opioid addicts to get clean without help.
I wish I could say that I just buckled down and stopped taking opioids all on my own, but I didn’t. After 2 ½ years, I was too far gone. I wanted to be free of opioid addiction, but I didn’t know how.
I needed someone to step in and help me. I needed someone who could lay out a plan to help me taper down slowly and hold on to the pills (to prevent me from taking more).
Thankfully, my dad was that person. He didn’t only help me get off opioids, he researched and found the best option for tapering down. Then, he supported me through the 4 months it took for me to get clean, not only by holding onto the pills for me but by providing a safe space for the intense emotional struggle it was.
In conclusion, it’s never fair to look at addicts, former or current, and judge them by that label. You don’t know all the factors that played into their road to addiction, and you don’t know the daily struggle it is for some to stay clean and continue on.
So the next time you want to pass judgment, remember that.
Photo Credit: Westend61 via Getty Images
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