Saturday, March 25, 2017

Stigma.

There's been a movement about to remove the stigma of addiction; they say (as on this site) that it punishes those who are sick. You wouldn't punish someone for having cancer, would you? But people who suffer from addictions are terrified of their secret coming out, and so they stay in the shadows until the darkness claims them.

I sympathize with this view entirely; few things bring as much shame on a person than the effects of addiction. I wonder if anyone suffers from the addict's behavior more than the addict does. Getting clean is a mighty, even titanic, struggle.

But here's my question: Is removing the stigma from addiction not actually normalizing it, thus legitimizing it? I know some people who believe they were born alcoholic, had all the characteristics that psychologists associate with the disease long before they took that first drink -- why can't they just say "I was born this way" and not do anything about it? Self-righteousness and victimhood is one way of dealing with some of the suffering of addiction -- getting rid of the humiliation. It's a poor way, but it's a way.

You think that Addict Pride sounds like a crazy idea -- heard of any other ideas lately that would have seemed crazy 40 or even 30 years ago?

It is absolutely true that shame can keep people from going to get help, but it sure as hell can also motivate people to go and get help. And they should try to get some kind of help, if only to protect everyone around them. 

The thing is, addiction may be an illness, but it's not like other illnesses. Cancer, diabetes, heart disease, these things don't cause this:


You know what that is? It's a seal over the tank of a toilet bowl in the place where I go for blood and urine tests as part of my annual physical. They have to use sealing tape to prevent a guy who's clean from leaving a vial of his own pee hidden in the tank for his buddy who's coming in next to take a drug test for work (maybe as a school bus driver) or as part of his parole. After I left my own sample a tech probably checked the room to make sure I didn't leave anything around. Cancer patients don't smuggle in someone else's blood so they can beat the CBC and go on having cancer.

That's why some people don't buy the disease model of addiction, or allow that it's a kind of insanity -- this kind of behavior is crafty and lucid. Everybody else has to struggle to stay a step ahead of the guy who is trying to kill himself with drugs or alcohol. How could you take the stigma from that even if you wanted to?

No one really knows if more people or fewer people will get treatment if the shame of addiction is removed. They can point to the anonymity of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous and other similar organizations as proof that people will seek help if they can go someplace where they will not be exposed to the whole world and will be with those who understand. And that's true -- but it's not like those organizations have been outlawed, They're still there. One can recover with one's addiction unknown to the outside world (if one's crash hasn't been too public). We can't expect that removing the stigma of addiction will turn the whole world into a safe zone. It doesn't work that way. AA and NA stress that the alcoholic or drug addict must take responsibility for his condition, and that includes dealing with the world as it is, not as he'd like it to be.

As Mitch Hedberg said, "Alcoholism is the only disease you can get yelled at for having." That was before he died of an overdose at age 37. People knew he'd been in trouble for drugs. He admitted it. He was out of the shadows and died anyway. 
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