While stigmas are mostly unproductive hindrances to dealing with difficult situations, they are unfortunately alive and well when it comes to certain diseases. The disease of addiction is one such example, which is a true shame since it knows no ethnic, religious and socioeconomic boundaries.
As you’ll read in Susan Ingram’s cover story this week, even members of the Baltimore Jewish community can fall prey to the trap of addiction. You’ll see that several of those with whom we spoke didn’t want their names used, obviously because of that stigma.
So how do we deal with the stigma and help heal our fellow community members who are suffering?
As “Bill” said in the story, seek help “whether you want it or not — ask for it. Go to a meeting, raise your hand, say you’re new and see what happens.” Those in recovery said that being honest and talking about their addiction was a major step in their healing. While it’s on them to take that step, it’s also on family members and friends to listen and step up as a support system.
Society at large must also act to stamp out the stigma by not treating those with addictions like pariahs or criminals, but as people dealing with disease. And the opioid epidemic and other addictions should be dealt with as public health crises, not issues of law enforcement.
Lucky for Marylanders, Gov. Larry Hogan, as well as Baltimore City and County officials, have taken steps to attack addiction from a public health perspective.
Addiction has affected several people close to me who luckily got the help they needed to lead healthier lives. For me, it meant going to meetings, checking in with phone calls and abstaining from drinking at social events to help support one of my friends in his journey. I know that these little things were huge for my friend as he navigated a new, sober life.
And while the disease of addiction is foreign to me, I find that it’s also relatable. As someone with Crohn’s disease,I can empathize. While addiction and Crohn’s work in very different ways, when the disease is active you lose control of your body. Sure, the circumstances that lead to the disease being active are very different, but when you’re in the throes of it, the loss of control is still very much there.
That’s where I think the key is in combating the stigma and letting people with addictions and their loved ones know that they can come forward and seek help — finding empathy in the situation and realizing that people dealing with addiction are fellow human beings just like you and me.