Photo courtesy of Highland Hospital
Perception! Blame! Policy! More than an addiction
We’ve all seen the headlines. West Virginia has the highest drug overdose death rate in the nation…Why the opioid epidemic is so bad in West Virginia… Acknowledging West Virginia’s drug problem…Addicted State…these are just a few. In my organization, we treat people in the grip of addiction every day. Whether we are caring for adults in our hospital who have been self-treating their psychiatric diagnoses with illicit or prescription drugs, or children who have experienced the trauma inflicted through living in an environment where drug use is rampant, or we are caring for people who come to us for help withdrawing from alcohol or drugs, we are seeing every day the ravages of substance use disorder. It’s not easy for our patients, it’s not easy for their families, it’s a struggle for our communities, and it’s a stressor for our care providers. But the bottom line—there is hope. Let’s talk about Substance Abuse Disorder (SAD). Substance Abuse Disorder is a chronic brain disorder with a chance for recurrence. Like any other chronic disease, the impact of SAD is felt in many parts of an individual’s life. Work or school might be impacted. Relationships may be affected. Routines may be altered because of the chronic disease. And, most importantly, care and attention is needed to control the chronic disease. Understanding addiction as a brain disease has significant implications for the public perception of addicts and their families, for addiction treatment practice, and for aspects of public policy. What about perception? More and more we are hearing the discussion of addiction as a chronic disease. This shift in perception will help as we develop prevention and treatment programs and get away from the thinking that the person with SAD is to “blame” for their disease. The need to remove the stigma of addiction is never more important than today. Treatment services will only work if those who need them feel comfortable seeking them out.
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