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This mom found freedom from addiction with help from her faith. You can, too | Opinion

Kansas City Star - 5/26/2023

Addiction is all around us, whether we want to admit it or not.

More than 46 million people in the U.S. have a substance use disorder — more than 16% of our population — according to the U.S. Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration.

Every eight minutes, someone in our country dies of an opioid overdose. And early numbers for 2022 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show drug overdose deaths reached a new high.

When drugs or alcohol are involved, people suddenly distance themselves from the problem. They don’t want to admit that they — or someone they love — has an addiction. By denying the reality in front of them, they are actually distancing themselves and depriving that person of a supportive community that’s critical to their recovery. They are creating a stigma.

The good news? Recognizing our propensity to addiction — and to creating stigmas — offers us a bold opportunity for change.

Take the story of Cecilia. She grew up watching her parents use drugs. She started smoking cigarettes at age 12, and soon after that was regularly using narcotics. By 18, she was pregnant and in an abusive relationship. After the birth of her first child, Cecilia’s addiction spiraled out of control.

In the coming years, she would be in and out of jail, evicted multiple times from secure housing and still using drugs. She eventually lost her children to the Missouri Department of Social Services and, after one arrest, found herself in a jail cell withdrawing from the drugs her body so desperately craved. Alone and pregnant with her sixth child, she cried out to God for help.

Thankfully, she found a community that didn’t ignore her problems but accompanied her through recovery. Cecilia left that lonely jail cell and was welcomed into the care of a local Adult & Teen Challenge center.

Three months later, Cecilia’s mother passed away. But for the first time, she had healthy and supportive relationships to lean on during a time of immense turmoil. Despite her grief, she didn’t run to drugs to hide from her pain and loss. Her nonjudgmental community helped her overcome the typical stigma of addiction and allowed her to persevere through recovery.

We need to move beyond the antiquated and singular recovery goal of having an individual “kick” an addiction. Instead, we must support the whole person — mind, body and spirit — and prioritize human flourishing as the ultimate goal of recovery. Human beings are so much more than recovering addicts. They have faces, names, personalities, relationships and deep-rooted sets of beliefs.

A stigma isolates people. Those who feel stigmatized think they’re “set apart” or judged badly. Relationships and community are absolutely critical for people like Cecilia to overcome addiction, because they help remove the stigma.

We’re seeing other success stories like Cecilia’s around the country. Successful treatment programs recognize that addiction is more than just biological or psychological, and provide individuals with communities of support. If people are surrounded with loving relationships and their thirst for purpose in life is being met, the effects are truly transformative.

Cecilia was eventually able to reunite with her other children, whom she hadn’t seen in more than two years. “Their hugs brought such healing to my soul,” she said.

Addiction by nature is not strictly a moral failing, even though it’s often treated as such. If we provide people with substance use disorder with a strong community of support, there’s a much better chance they won’t feel judged as moral failures.

It’s also necessary to emphasize that to end the stigma of addiction, we all have to admit we have access to life-altering substances or technology — and thus are all at risk of addiction.

Think of the myriad ways we can develop compulsive habits, from shopping to eating, gambling to gaming. Just think about our smartphones. We turn to our screen hundreds, if not thousands, of times daily. We’re conditioned with Pavlovian predictability by any small ding or haptic. Many of us feel anxious without it in our hands or pocket.

But this type of addiction doesn’t carry the stigma of substance abuse, nor does an addiction to video games — a diagnosis now included in the 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases. We have to shed this notion that alcohol or drugs somehow bring with them a unique sense of shame that other addictive technologies do not.

Finally, when discussing recovery, we must bring everyone to the table — medical doctors, psychologists and faith-based recovery experts. Human beings are complex, and solutions to addiction need to be comprehensive

Dr. Holly Geyer, addiction medicine specialist at the Mayo Clinic, notes that studies have revealed the success of treatment programs that integrate spirituality.

“Many people believe spirituality is an important and integral part of their personal makeup,” she writes in her new book, “Ending the Crisis.” “People going through treatment are usually looking for hope, purpose, connection and forgiveness. Spirituality often provides the hope that people desperately need.”

The problem of addiction in the U.S. is both urgent and growing. It’s time for us all to accompany anyone we know fighting an addiction, and convince them — by our presence and by our love — that they’re not alone. It’s time for us all to work to end the stigma of addiction.

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