Taking Back the Addiction Narrative
It’s time to stop blaming doctors for addiction. We have all heard the narrative about the opioid epidemic. The angry family members blaming their child’s problem on prescription-happy doctors, a sports accident, then suddenly they have become addicted to prescription opioids, the prescription ends, and now they’re using heroin. And, this may be true for some people, I am not discrediting that this can be reality, however it is not the majority and its time we talk about that. Not only does this narrative completely disregard and place blame on any drug user who is addicted to something besides opioids, but it also ignores the fact that addiction is a brain disorder caused by more than just physical dependence to a prescription.
The counter argument to this narrative is often “what about people who use prescriptions and don’t become addicted,” and it is not entirely wrong. The more pressing question I see in all of this is the fact that cocaine overdose deaths have risen along with the number of people seeking treatment for methamphetamines, benzodiazepines and alcohol. Yet, we are not discussing why these people are addicted. We cannot blame doctors, so we often blame the individual for lack of “willpower” and “character flaw.” So, is there addiction their own fault? Of course, it isn’t their fault, since addiction is a complex disease of physical and mental dependence, emotional problems and often co-occurring mental illnesses
In a recent study done by Syracuse University, they explore the opioid epidemic and its causes by talking to addicts and their family members about the first time they used. While 81% of people admitted that their heroin addiction began with prescription opioids, they also noted that they had been misusing marijuana, alcohol and other illicit drugs for years before they began misusing prescription opioids. Less than 40% of the people who misused prescription opioids got them from a doctor, and less than 20% of people got them by stealing them out of a parent’s medicine cabinet. In fact, many respondents reported getting them for the first time from a family member, friend or romantic partner, with the intention to get high.
Throughout the research done at Syracuse, they questioned why each person began to misuse opioids and heroin, with the top reason as being a way to cope with negative childhood experiences such as emotional or physical trauma and relationship problems. The research also found that most people begin misusing opioids before age 25, after already experimenting with other drugs and alcohol. This makes high school and college pivotal times for prevention programs. This research shows us that it is time to stop placing blame on doctors and start taking a closer look at ourselves. Opioids are a pain reliever, but are we using them to dull the pain of emotional problems instead of physical problems? Has this become more acceptable than seeking therapy? It is time to change the narrative surrounding substance use, and to start sharing our stories of addiction and recovery, whatever they may look like and however they may have started. This is the only way to truly show people that may be struggling that it is okay if you are addicted to opioids that you didn’t get from a doctor. You are not less than, and your story, life and recovery still matter.
Recovery is possible. The study also examined approaches to aiding in the recovery of substance use, which found that client-centered approaches to counseling work best. These approaches engage the client’s motivations for change by exploring and resolving past problems. At Amatus, the overall goal is to help the client understand why they use and how they can finally stop. Prescription opioid use is the leading cause of heroin and fentanyl use, which are the two most dangerous and deadly drugs in the United States. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use, now is the time to reach out for help. You don’t have to live another day feeling ashamed or guilty in the cycle of addiction.