Imagine this scenario: You have an illness, you go to your doctor, and the two of you together decide the best course of treatment, which may include medication. You feel relieved to have a plan, see a way out of your pain, and have gotten over the anxiety of asking for help. Naturally, you share the news with those most important to you. Any one of us would expect support, love, and encouragement- but what if instead you were faced with judgment, invalidation, and disappointment in their eyes? You might be thinking, “that’s crazy- family and friends would never do that!”. Sadly, this exact scenario is what individuals struggling with substance use disorders face when choosing to engage in Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT). So, what is MAT? Some might say it’s just switching out one substance for another. Others might say it’s great for a limited amount of time – I say, it saves lives. Having a substance use disorder (SUD) is not a moral weakness, and it is not something that can just be stopped because an individual wants it to end. It is changing the way a person’s brain is working and all those complicated chemicals associated with our reward center and how we feel pleasure. To repair a chemical problem, you need other chemicals: i.e., Methadone, Suboxone, or Vivitrol. Can you imagine if you broke your arm and people told you to just “not think about it” or “if you loved me your arm would just heal”? What if we told people not to take their high blood pressure or high cholesterol medication because “it’s the easy way out”? Those statements are dangerous and not based in reality, so why do so many in society make those types of statements when it comes to substance use disorder? Because of that dirty word: STIGMA.
The stigma surrounding SUDs can literally be deadly. It prevents people from seeking help and forces them to use alone, often in dangerous conditions. Stigma keeps families isolated from the support and education they need. It is cruel and unforgiving, and the people being stigmatized feel that. Just for a moment, think about how that must feel. Stigma leads to shame and guilt, depression, and hopelessness- all of which are catalysts for suicide. People say suicide is selfish, but how would those same people describe the act of chastising a person for their personal medical decisions? People with SUDs are just that- people. They need to be treated with respect, dignity, and compassion, just as any other sick individual would be treated by society and the medical field. I see the struggle every day in the faces of those coping with substance use disorder, and it both breaks my heart but also gives me joy. I love working at Symetria for the very fact that I get to witness individuals saying “to hell with stigma” and doing what is right for them and their families. Please, be good humans.
Jennifer DiCostanzo, LCSW, CADC, has been working in the mental health field for the past 7 years in various roles with DHS, DuPage County Health Department, and Symetria Recovery. “What I have found through these roles is that my passion is working with the SUD population, particularly individuals who struggle with co-occurring mental health diagnoses and SUD. I genuinely love what I do and am grateful that I get to witness the amazing journeys of the people I serve.”
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This post was written by live4lali