What I’ve learned over the last three months about addiction


(Stock photo)

For the past three months, I have been reading and learning, researching and asking questions, and trying to better understand the opiate epidemic. Remember when heroin was associated mainly with celebrities? Now it’s as common as any other standard painkiller.

I started out as a true layman to this issue, wondering what I was getting into when I started writing this blog, #HealthyRegion. I have no medical background, so how could I do this and make it worth reading? Then I thought, maybe this is perfect. Readers are more like me than I know. If I write from a place of care and honesty – well, how can I go wrong?

So, with a content plan, I jumped in, and my life jacket became BDN editor Erin Rhoda. If I had a fraction of the patience she has, I would be a better person!

I have learned it is easy to just put on blinders and carry on — work, eat, play, sleep, repeat — and not worry about the world we live in.

But it has gone too far. We are beyond the point where we can just trip through life without a concern for those around us. Addiction will touch your life at some point, if it hasn’t already. It may already be sitting at your dining room table, and you don’t know.

This is the time to look around and do what we can to take care of each other, drop the useless judgment and help one another.

What follows are the top five things I have learned or relearned in the past three months, with links to past blogs:

1. A substance use disorder is a chronic, relapsing disease. Do we turn our backs to those with cancer? No, we sure do not, so why do we with this disease? No one chooses to be addicted. No one chooses to be in pain and to put themselves and others in harm’s way. Believe this!

2. Words matter. Words create stigma. It’s okay to make an error, as long as you are open to correcting it, learning from it and trying with all your might to not do it again. It’s also our duty to correct those around us, knowing this can be done with mindfulness and care. Over the past several weeks, I found myself correcting comments made in my presence, asking questions to see if what they said was truly what they meant. It’s education, and it can occur gently.

3. Everyone has an opinion – and many aren’t afraid to share. And everyone has the right to their opinions even if I may not understand where they are coming from. No two people are alike, and all sides need to be heard for us to fully understand the scope and magnitude of what we are dealing with. You never know what you will learn from someone. Let them teach you. Open ears and an open heart are key.

4. Prescription painkillers scare me – and it worries me that strict protocols will hurt those who truly need pain management. Does this sound like a contradiction? In some ways it is. I guess it goes back to no two things are alike. I don’t want the procedures to be so strict that those who are in need of medications cannot get them. However we need to do a much better job in the way we prescribe opiate painkillers, and many people are working on this front.

5. This could be me. This could be my best friend, and chances are high it is for some around me, and I don’t know it. We don’t know the struggles others carry, what burdens they live with day in and day out. Let’s end the judgment and stigma. It could be the mother who picks her son up at soccer practice, the father who walks his daughter down the aisle, the little sister who wants to be forgiven.