From: Kansas City, Mo
Nurse, Sister, Friend
As a practicing registered nurse, I can recount dozens, if not hundreds, of experiences with patients dealing with addiction. I have seen a sharp increase in the numbers of patients admitted into the ICU following an overdose since the COVID-19 pandemics started. I also experience the weight of coworkers coping, and not, with various forms of addiction. And last but not least, I have seen in my own family the death-dealing toll of addiction. Addiction affects everyone. It does not discriminate but does tend to prefer certain races, sexes, sexual affiliations, religions, regions, cultures, professions, and backgrounds.
Effects of Addiction
My experience is both personal and that of being a nurse in a nation with a heavy stigma against mental health treatment. I come from a background that addiction was the norm, to alcohol, to work, and even heroin. The effect is a two-edged sword: the stressors that lead to needing help coping and the lack of positive coping mechanisms that lead to harmful coping mechanisms of addiction.
Let me contrast myself with a close family member: I am a nurse, the most trusted profession in America. My family member mows lawns for cash. I see a therapist every two weeks; he sees one only when incarcerated. I have never been arrested, served a warrant, pulled over for driving under the influence, lost a job because of working while high, been divorced, have back child support, had a missing persons report filed for me, but he has. We grew up in the same house, the same rules… Why did we turn out so differently? We suffered similar abuse, neglect… these are questions I ask myself. Addiction did not start with our generation or even our parents, yet its effects will affect who knows how many generations to come.
I firmly believe if it was ok and even encouraged in social, work, professional, and scholastic circles to talk about having a mental health diagnosis respectfully and knowledgeably, we would see a drastic decline in addiction. To have less stigma, you must have normalcy. To have normalcy, you must have easy access to treatment. It took my husband over 6months to see a therapist, not even one that specializes in addiction. People don’t have the time and energy to devote to searching out a place for treatment. It is hard enough for the motivated in our society to find help, how much more for those that are not. We must have ease of access for early interventions. So many things would have to align to make that happen: school programs/curriculum that addresses mental health, relocation of funds from criminalization to rehabilitation both in police, social work, and major employers, research into genetic predisposition to addiction and early intervention for those at highest risk, education of positive coping mechanisms for stress taught at every level of society. The list goes on and on. This is clearly, a multi-faceted issue requiring multidisciplinary collaboration.