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Addiction is a disease. This is a proven medical fact. So why is there a stigma attached to addiction? Does the same stigma apply to those with diabetes, cancer, or a multitude of other diseases? For the most part, the answer is “no.”

by Nick Cuneo, President and Founder of Clean Recovery Centers

Addiction is possibly one of the most devastating diseases on the planet. When someone is stricken with terminal cancer, all those impacted feel sad, helpless and sorry for the person. He or she eventually dies and is mourned. At some point, people move on, hopefully with pleasant memories of the loved one. But this is typically not the case with the suffering addict who is largely ridiculed by society.

Addicts and their behavior are looked upon with embarrassment and shame. If this person truly has a disease – and addiction is a disease – why is this the case? If the person afflicted has little or no control over what they do when active in addiction, why is there this stigma and feeling that, in fact, this person “should” have control over what they do. In fact, the suffering addict has about as much control over their disease as someone with terminal cancer that is untreated. Society may say, “This is nonsense. Of course, the person has control over what they do!” However, this is simply not true of the suffering addict who is not receiving effective treatment.

In truth, societal stigma associated with addiction has made it worse. Addicts believe what they hear and wonder to themselves: “Why can’t I control my behavior.” According to society, addicts “should” be able to control themselves but cannot. The addict then feels worse and uses more and more often. Even worse behavior usually follows with the addict feeling even more guilt and shame. Unless the addict is treated effectively, this terrible cycle continues until it is interrupted, most often ending up in jails, institutions or even death.

What has been the result of this stigma and ignorance surrounding addiction? Drug overdose has gone off the chart. It is now one of the leading causes of death in the country, and there is no end in sight. Over 60,000 people will die this year from drug overdoses alone.

If we are to tackle the current opioid and overall drug and alcohol epidemic, this stigma must change dramatically. Society does not understand that addiction is more than a physical disease and more than just the addict “stopping”. There is a psychological component to this disease that blocks addicts from abstaining until he or she can develop a completely different manner of thinking and living. Addiction is often described as a three-fold disease – physical, mental, and spiritual. Bottom line – without effective help to address these components, the addict cannot stop!

How can we change this stigma? There are many things that can help, education being one of them. At our treatment center, we educate not only the suffering addict but also all those impacted by their disease, including family members, spouses and friends. It is also very important that the addict approve whom we speak to and share information with.

When we explain addiction in all its facets to these people, including family and friends, they become much more open to the fact that addiction is a disease. They often feel a sense of comfort and ease knowing that the addict is not a bad person, that they are simply a very sick person with a fatal illness that, if not treated, will result in death.

Those close to the addict are often encouraged by the fact that the person can come back and live a life beyond their wildest imagination. Being in recovery ourselves, we know how it feels to suffer and recover from this disease. Only an addict knows what it is truly like to have this affliction. We describe how we suffered, what happened, and what life is like now.

On a broader scale, at Clean Recovery we plan to launch educational initiatives online and also develop partnerships with key third parties, both profit and non-profit, to further educate society at large. We will also be examining opportunities at the local, state, and federal levels to get this information out to the broader audience.

Almost everyone knows of someone who is suffering from addiction. Most have little if any understanding of what this disease is, how they can help the addict. Many people have very definitive views on addiction, including that this is a moral issue and the result of character flaws. This ignorant view is literally killing people every day. Addiction is no more a moral issue or character flaw than cancer is. Addiction is a deadly disease that can be effectively treated.

The fact that there are many supposed treatment centers engaging in illegal or immoral activities has not helped. This would be akin to a doctor watering down chemotherapy medicines to improve their profit margin. It is disgusting that this activity is happening. That said, this activity is often getting more press than the addiction epidemic itself. As part of our educational activities we plan to inform the population that although this is happening in certain areas, there are a great many facilities doing extremely good work with incredible results. It is imperative that those seeking treatment do their research thoroughly.

For more information about the Clean Recovery Centers three-phase approach program, click here.