What characterizes an addiction? The answer is a complex series of biological and psychological symptoms that begin or are traced back to the repeated use of addictive substances, which are psychoactive compounds that share a mechanism through which a person develops a physical dependence on the drug. Hallmarks of an addiction include strong withdrawal symptoms during sobriety, powerful cravings, and behavior that is not characteristic for the addict’s usual self but implies an inability to properly control their actions or think things through.
But the visceral reaction to an addict or an addiction is often much less nuanced, especially with the associations often made between addiction, drugs, and heinous crimes. Many people see addicts as emotionally and psychologically weak, as helpless, or incurable, or at worst, as pathological liars abusing those around them. That stigma is significant enough that a large portion of addicts feel the same way about themselves. Rather than see their condition as a curable illness, they feel that the mistakes they have made weigh heavily on their shoulders and their shoulders alone, and that they should feel terrible for what they’ve done – to the point that they often experience a profound level of shame. Stigma and self-stigma – they are abundant in addictions and create a looping effect. When enough people around you believe something, it becomes hard not to believe it too.
Becoming aware of the stigma and breaking it is hard work. But it is necessary work. No addict can cure their addiction while hating themselves. There’s no way you can come to terms with the things you’ve done while addicted and be at peace with the past while internalizing the stigma against addicts that many share.
Hate, trauma, undue stress. We rely on conflicts and struggles to grow and develop, but there is a point where too much is too much. You don’t need to atone for your sins as an addict and processing your addiction by internalizing the anger of others is neither effective nor healthy. Work on staying away from people who feel that your addiction is a judgment of your character as a person, and don’t engage with individuals who feel the urge to harass you because of your past.
To really progress and recover, you have to put that all behind you. One of the reasons why one of the steps in AA groups involves seeking forgiveness is not necessarily so you would be punished or so you would atone, but so you can find the closure you need to move on. The same goes for most treatment philosophies – if you’re hung up on your addiction, you cannot progress. Move past the hate, avoid it, and instead seek out compassion and forgiveness – primarily from within yourself, for yourself.
Seek Help from Friends and Family
You’re not in this alone. Only you can make the decision to get better, and only you can work through a program intended to help you get better – but that doesn’t mean it’s all your doing. To recover, an addict must rely on others, from the healthcare providers to the doctors in-charge, to the friends and family members who provide emotional, physical, and financial support along the way.
The reason why seeking help is a big part of overcoming stigma is because to ask for help, you have to admit that you need it, and that you’re willing to ask someone else to invest in you – that you’re worth helping. When you’re ready to truly seek help from others, you’re ready to escape the guilt that comes attached to the stigma of addiction.
Consider Therapy and/or Counseling
Addiction programs are important for the development of techniques to help tackle the challenges present in the early stages of sobriety. But over time, the motivation to maintain a rigid recovery-oriented lifestyle becomes difficult to maintain. Instead of relying solely on self-discipline for motivation, consider continuing to see mental health professionals long after you’ve completed a recovery program and have successfully maintained your sobriety.
You don’t have to wait until it’s too late to get help – by working with a counselor or therapist after a program, you can continue to work on issues that still persist, address cravings on a case-by-case basis and seek advice.
It’s a Long-Term Process
One should never forget that treating an addiction is a lifelong journey. One day, you may find yourself being sober for decades – but that doesn’t mean recovery has ended. Rather than understand that as a sort of prohibitive sentencing, picture it this way – to spend the rest of your life as a sober person, you have to make a matching (lifelong) commitment to sobriety.
Part of that involves reflecting on your time as an addict and understanding that your behavior while addicted does not prohibit you from being a better person or making better choices. An attitude of hate can quickly lead those who are oppressed to internalize the idea that they are worthless and incapable of change, but this is antithetical to the point of recovery, which is that you must change for the better, and that you will change for the better.
It’s important not to neglect therapy and your long-term emotional wellbeing when thinking about addiction treatment. You are never just magically cured from an addiction. You must put in the work each day to avoid needing to ever use again. The cravings are diminished and may even pass with time, but there is no shortcut, and no magic pill.
There will be moments of pain and temptation, and even a moment or two of weakness and relapse. But it’s a continued and constant commitment to your own mental health that will keep you sober, alongside heartfelt gratitude for the love and support you received from those around you in your darkest hours. By continuing to maintain a lifestyle oriented around supporting your sobriety and your commitment to those around you to stay clean, you’re not just never using again, but you’re continuing to work on other personal issues that may have ultimately fueled your addiction to begin with.