Intervention, not ostracism, will help drug abusers

In 2013, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reported that 24.6 million Americans aged 12 years or older had used an illicit drug in the past month. This number accounts for about 9.4 percent of Americans. Substance abuse or misuse can affect anyone, from all walks of life.

In the last several years, the increase in substance abuse has been described as an “epidemic.” There is a rise in the need for change in the way society views substance abuse and the way we treat individuals that struggle with substance abuse. 

Researchers have long theorized what makes an individual an “addict,” finding several recurring components to be present in individuals suffering with substance abuse and dependency.

“Impaired self-esteem and disorganised social relationships” are two elements that cause for a self-medication coping mechanism response found in individuals struggling with addiction, according to a 2016 study in the Romanian Journal of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy & Hypnosis.

Society as a whole has a tendency to ostracize individuals struggling with substance abuse. These individuals are made to feel as though they are unwanted or burdensome. In many cases, their already disorganized social relationships become strained even more so. By utilizing inclusive interventions that put an emphasis on creating, repairing, or maintaining healthy social relationships, individuals struggling with substance abuse and dependency will have greater success in recovery.

The social stigma of ‘addicts’ and the way that we treat those struggling with substance abuse and dependency complicate the already complex concept of substance abuse. Individuals suffering from substance abuse and dependency are often treated as criminals, and receive jail time instead of rehabilitation. The ostracization of individuals struggling with substance abuse and dependency contributes to their inability to establish meaningful social connections and relationships, as well as a sense of purpose. By removing the aspect of an individual’s own self determination, will to recover, and involvement in the intervention process, the likelihood of a lasting recovery is diminished.

A substance-free peer group, sense of purpose, as well as social connections are all components to promoting a healthy, substance free lifestyle. By implementing more empathetic, inclusive interventions while working with individuals struggling with substance abuse, the individual will have an increased sense of self determination, and an increased chance of recovery without relapse. 

An example of an inclusive intervention could be a self-help group. The members share commonalities, and all strive for a common goal.  Individuals can make connections with others, as well as feel a strong sense of community.  Individuals are more likely to pursue a healthy substance free lifestyle if they are involved in the treatment process, and feel supported in their pursuit. Community membership can strengthen an individual’s sense of purpose.

Although societies’ stigmas towards individuals struggling with substance abuse might not change, the way we treat one another must.

—Madelyn Harry

UW-Whitewater Senior