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New Trend: Recovering Substance Abusers Are “Coming Out” to Help Change Public Attitudes
Back in 2014, a study by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that public attitudes toward substance abuse are far more negative than toward mental illness.
While mental illness has become more acceptable to the public as a medical problem, “drug addiction” and addiction in general are still strongly associated with personal weakness and failure.
All that is about to change, according to a recent article in the Washington Post. Young people across the country are “coming out” – publicly admitting to substance use problems. They’re organizing to get media attention, to help sway public opinion away from condemnation and discrimination, and towards better understanding of the real story behind America’s addiction epidemic.
The article points out that “anonymity has been a bedrock principle of Alcoholics Anonymous and other groups that help people recover from substance abuse. They have long insisted that secrecy, even for those who have conquered addiction, is the only way to ensure that people can feel safe coming to meetings.
“But now, with a generation in the grip of an opiate epidemic, many younger activists are publicly acknowledging their addiction and recovery, and encouraging others to do the same. Stepping forward, they say, is the only way to earn social acceptance, political clout and badly needed money for treatment,” the article says.
The article says the new tactics “echo the strategy of people with HIV and AIDS, who organized in the 1980s to demand treatment, and, more recently, the approach of transgender people.”
Condemnation goes way back
America’s negative attitudes and opinions about addiction – particularly drugs and alcohol – are nothing new among the America public. And trying to change those attitudes goes back many decades.
One of the more recent attempts was in May, 1976, when more than 50 celebrities got together in Washington, DC, for an event they called Operation Understanding.
“Actors, politicians, journalists, sports figures, physicians, lawyers, pilots, clergymen, even an astronaut and an Indian chief were among the celebrities,” according to Points, a blog about alcohol and drug abuse and addiction. “Some of those who participated were actor Dick Van Dyke and former astronaut Buzz Aldrin.”
One by one, each person on the stage stood up and said, “I am an alcoholic.” One of the most widely known celebs of that era who stood up on that stage was TV personality Gary Moore, the popular host of such game shows as “I’ve Got a Secret” and “To Tell the Truth” and his own The Gary Moore Show. Moore told the Los Angeles Times that for a long time, “a lot of us stayed in the closet. This is a great day, a great step forward.”
For these people to come forward in this public manner, in a time when such admission was absolutely unheard of, was seen as a major sea-change. The event received a lot of positive media coverage.
Nothing much has changed
But today, more than three decades later, attitudes still haven’t changed much.
A survey into what people see as the likely causes of addiction by the substance-abuse research group CASAColumbia found that the majority of Americans are only slightly more willing to look at addiction as a medical as well as personal problem today than they were decades ago.
Respondents still cited lack of willpower and self-control (28.7 percent), genetic predisposition (29.9 percent), inability to resist peer pressure (41.9 percent), easy availability (35.1 percent) and emotional or mental illness (34.8 percent) among the reasons for addiction.
According to a 2014 survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 21.5 million people 12 or older have a substance-abuse disorder, including 17 million who are addicted to alcohol. And according to a 2012 survey by the Partnership at Drugfree.org, an additional 23 million 18 and older say they are in recovery. The Post said that an average of 110 people die each day of overdoses from legal and illegal opiates.
“The silence ends”
The Operation Understanding event presaged more recent activities calling for an end to the stigma of addiction. Often called “the new recovery advocacy movement,” it’s been marked by public rallies as well as individuals going public about their recovery. Recovery has taken on new significance since a series of rallies in 2013 in several American, Canadian and European cities.
We recently blogged about the most recent rally, the largest ever in this country, which took place on October 4, 2015 at the Mall in Washington, D.C.
Called “The Day The Silence Ends,” it was the first “UNITE To Face Addiction Rally” of several planned for other cities. It attracted tens of thousands of people to the Mall who enthusiastically shared the call for an end to the stigma of addiction.
The D.C. event was organized by Facing Addiction Inc., a new non-profit group involving individuals and families, treatment professionals and government agencies, in a concerted effort once and for all “vanquish addiction in America.” The UNITE group has enlisted the support of more than 700 professionals in the addiction field – many of whom have never worked together before, and who have pledged to “stand up for recovery.”
It’s clear that the spirit of that original Operation Understanding so many years ago is still alive and well, judging by the growing public demands for better understanding of addiction and more and better treatment services.
Here at Novus we’re 100 percent supportive of the call for more effective treatment and recovery. Our unique and powerful treatment protocols help overcome substance dependence with the absolute minimum of discomfort. If you are experiencing a problem with drugs or alcohol, or want to help someone else who is in trouble, please call Novus Medical Detox today.
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