Ending the Stigma of Alcohol Addiction - by Patrick Bailey

Struggling with any mental illness can be extremely isolating and discouraging, and alcoholism is no different. Addiction is a mental illness that develops through unhealthy coping mechanisms for triggers such as stress, anxiety, fatigue, and more. Addiction can also be a genetic risk for some, or can develop through excessive drinking habits, including socially drinking. Regardless of its cause, alcoholism is a difficult illness to recover from alone. Ending the stigma for people who struggle will increase the likelihood of successful recovery, reintegration into society, and survival in a healthy environment they can be proud of. Individuals and communities alike benefit when the stigma of alcohol addiction is understood and refocused on recovery. Implement these easy strategies to enhance your community's support of those struggling with addiction.

Getting Educated

The first step to supporting people with alcoholism is to simply get educated. Without understanding the disease, you will miss warning signs and essential conversations with those affected. Learn what it means to have a predisposition to addiction as well as which environments create the triggers for someone to develop a drinking problem. Research long term consequences of alcoholism such as liver cancer and withdrawal symptoms that worsen over time. You can also educate yourself on resources available for those who suffer with alcoholism, so you can be an ally who directs them towards treatment if you see the opportunity. Educating yourself and your community will help you see the illness as it is scientifically, while seeing the victims as people first.

Allowing Conversations

Conversations about alcoholism may be difficult, but they are powerful enough to bridge the gap between those who suffer and those who want to help. Asking questions and providing information are the best ways to understand what people are dealing with when they suffer (and how you can support them). Think about how difficult it feels to ask for help for any of your various struggles. With addiction, it is even more difficult due to the stigma around addiction and the isolating feelings the mental illness can cause someone to experience. If you are worried someone is avoiding a difficult conversation about addiction with you, you can still reduce the stigma by providing them a helpline or anonymous resource where they can ask for help. This still creates the space for a conversation that can lead to recovery.

Building Community Resources

Creating a community that accepts people who suffer from alcoholism and promotes a recovery-oriented point of view is a powerful way to create a resource that will help everyone. People who suffer from addiction often isolate themselves from their community due to fear of stigma or shame. Worse, they retreat into unhealthy habits and environments that promoted their addiction in the first place. Creating a community where people can get educated, feel supported, and exchange their unhealthy habits for socially healthy ones will allow them to thrive and stay sober in the long term. Consider lobbying for affordable alcohol rehab centers to be created within your community so recovery can be promoted within people's existing environments. Reducing the stigma of receiving treatment is effective when healthy treatment centers exist within driving distance of those who suffer.

Creating a Safe Space

Creating a safe space for those struggling with addiction is a powerful way to reduce interpersonal stigma. Shame and judgment around addiction often occur when one party is ashamed to be vulnerable or the other party is unwilling to understand the situation. By reversing this negative narrative, people will feel safe in sharing their struggles knowing their support system is open to hearing and helping. Creating a safe space can look like inviting someone who struggles into your home for a change of scenery or a positive conversation. It can look like offering yourself as a resource in case of addiction emergencies, or as a contact if they'd like visitors in treatment. If you are unsure what your community members need to feel safe and supported, asking is the best place to start. Asking questions like, "How can we support you as a community?" or, "What do you need from me to feel accepted and supported?" show individuals struggling with addiction that you are here to help.

Getting Involved

Activism is an effective method to reduce stigma around addiction and other mental illness on a large scale. Mental health organizations and events help increase visibility of the struggles of addiction while showing those who suffer that thousands of

people stand behind their journey to recovery. Activism spreads information that may not otherwise be available to those at risk or already victimized by addiction, such as medical resources or statistics on consequences. Activism can also have institutional impacts, giving people the power to lobby for laws and resources supporting those with addiction. Police trainings, government mental health employee placements, and addiction centers are all positive results of activism for those with addiction. Your community members will feel supported and encouraged to seek help if they witness resources and community events designed to promote healthy recovery. Lastly, activism can include community-building events that promote awareness such as addiction awareness walks and days of recovery. Get creative to build a community of activism that reduces the stigma of suffering from addiction.

Bringing Experts In

The last effective method to eradicate the stigma of addiction is to bring in a variety of experts to educate and empower the community. This ensures that important information reaches people at risk for addiction, and that resources are available for those who are already struggling. Bringing in experts to be active members of your community erases stigma by normalizing the journey of recovery and the ability to ask for help. Encourage licensed psychologists to practice in your area and conduct support groups for those at risk and struggling with addiction. Advocate for holistic treatment centers to provide affordable and local care for those needing serious interventions for addiction. Organize peer mentors to look out for those who are at risk and provide a support system beyond what most other community members can do. If you find that addiction is a public health crisis in your community, collaborate with doctors and addiction experts to implement more preventive measures in major institutions. Working with experts to provide information and resources promotes a positive community response to addiction, reducing stigma and allowing people to seek help.

Erasing stigma around addiction is best done at both individual and institutional levels. Creating safe spaces for individuals who are at risk for addiction (or who are ready to seek help) is the first step, so conversations can be had to understand their needs. Then, the community can advocate for their resources and support their journey of recovery, which is most successful with group support. Experts and institutional changes can support community activism and spread important information to reduce stigma while educating the population on addiction and important warning signs. Lastly, peer mentorship and community resources can provide ongoing support for those struggling. When approached at a holistic level, activism can create massive change to reduce the stigma around alcohol addiction, and community members can feel supported and encouraged to speak out when they are ready to recover.

Patrick Bailey is a professional writer mainly in the fields of mental health, addiction, and living in recovery. He attempts to stay on top of the latest news in the addiction and the mental health world and enjoy writing about these topics to break the stigma associated with them. You can reach him at any of the links below:

Email ID: baileypatrick780@gmail.com

Website / Blog URL: http://patrickbaileys.com

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