From: Plainview, NY
ADDICTION: THE UNSPOKEN ANGUISH
ADDICTION: THE UNSPOKEN ANGUISH
The past two Novembers, I was involved in the organization of Adelphi University’s “Midnight Run.” I helped compile and distribute care packages to homeless NYC residents, many of which were undergoing some type of treatment for substance use disorder. I chose to get involved because I’m filled with sorrow when seeing individuals without proper shelter, clothing, and food. I plan to partake in similar events in the future because it was a humbling experience to interact with these individuals on a personal level, despite any struggles they are experiencing related to substance use disorder or a mental health diagnosis.
From September 2019-March 2020, I was placed at a VAMC for my second internship (MSW program) and I honed in on my interpersonal and advocacy skills, while I assisted homeless Veterans (many who have substance use disorder) with attaining stable housing. Additionally, I led a CBT group for combat Veterans who have significant PTSD and substance use disorders. Many of my clients struggled with co-occurring mental health, substance use disorder and trauma-related diagnoses. In each of the aforementioned contexts, I have recognized the unique challenges presented to the populations and have developed an interest in honing in on skills related to addressing the substance use component.
Additionally, I collaborated with the Social Work Section Chief of Mental Health on a research project that aimed to evaluate the Northport VAMC’s effectiveness of providing timely mental health treatment to requesting Veterans. Simultaneously, I was writing an evidence-based practice research paper in one of my Social Work courses on effective interventions that could optimize the availability of mental health services for Veterans. Once completed, the Social Work Section Chief of Mental Health and I will report our findings to top officials within the VAMC system so we can influence social policy development to improve the quality of care for Veterans.
Working on this research project led to my interest in substance abuse counseling because addiction is related to many other psychosocial factors, including chronic homelessness, mental health, and trauma. I will be able to take two electives in the summer of 2020 and I plan on taking “Social Work Practice in the Prevention and Treatment of Substance Abuse,” assuming it is offered. This will likely make me eligible to then specialize in “Mental Health, Substance Abuse and Trauma in Context.”
I have never had a sip of alcohol and I plan to keep it this way. I have struggled with anxiety and depression for the majority of my life, and just feel no need to add anything that I could get addicted to onto my plate. I like to be in control of my decisions and not being sober would jeopardize how I view myself. Yet, I can still appreciate others’ challenges related to addiction. I know that addiction is a disease that one often cannot control. As a result, I have a lot of compassion and understanding for those who are battling. Moreover, on an individual level, we can remedy the addiction crisis by de-stigmatizing addiction and promoting education on various aspects of substance use disorder.
While I have never had substance use related issues, I can ensure that I do not look down on others who might have trouble staying sober, or don’t even want to be sober. It is not up to me to judge them for their decisions and I feel like others ought to be less judgmental when it comes to addiction as well. Labeling others as “junkies” or “addicts” can lead to the person developing a diminished self-image and continuing to perpetuate his or her addiction. Moreover, it is of utmost importance to continue to treat others with respect and support.
Addiction could pose financial implications as keeping up with an addiction comes at a high cost. Job loss or homelessness could ensue, increasing the implications of addiction. Interpersonal relationships could be tarnished and social supports could diminish as well. As mentioned before, a person dealing with addiction could slowly or quickly have his or her own self-image tattered by these aforementioned alterations.
The consequences of addiction on individuals and communities could be that a person might be unable to unwilling to work or socialize much while high or while undergoing addiction treatment. He or she might have to leave toxic relationships, work environments, or activities that could increase the chances of jeopardizing sobriety. He or she might also continue to be spread thin financially as treatment programs could incur massive costs, in case they aren’t covered fully by insurance.
As many know, receiving treatment can be very cumbersome, in terms of cost and commitment. I saw firsthand – from working with a Veteran who dealt with a significant cocaine addiction for decades – the need to not put too many responsibilities on a recovering addict while he or she is undergoing treatment. He or she might have to concentrate on the goal of staying sober. This Veteran told me that increasing the amount of self-stated goals makes him want to revert back to getting high, to alleviate himself of responsibilities that he is not willing to handle yet. Furthermore, other tasks could get put on hold and while this could pose some implications for the individual and his or her community (on a mezzo or macro level), the addiction needs to be dealt with first, so that the effects of withdrawal during detox are minimal.
I believe that our country has an addiction crisis because there are a lot of pressures on individuals to achieve. Some can be intimidated by these demands or are dealing with such profound life challenges that self-medication becomes the only feasible option. Additionally, the nation’s youth, often plagued by pressures to fit in with other students, might choose to initially experiment with substances and then could quickly become addicted as well. Maybe they want to show defiance or independence, in case they have been bound by the rules of their superiors. While they chose initially to experiment, many likely did not anticipate developing an addiction.
America is considered a meritocracy, but there are profound divides between groups, most noticeably between White Americans and Americans who belong to a minority group. This is in addition to the lack of resources (education, job opportunities, and healthcare) that are also kept from people who are poor, which typically is the latter group – minorities. Moreover, self-medication can run rampant and though not a healthy or cost-effective remedy, it appeases some of the pain experienced by these individuals or groups. This is, by either using or selling substances. Yet, the addiction continues to exacerbate issues, as minorities are often incarcerated for selling or using drugs at increasingly differential rates than White Americans.
Our country imprisons more of our own people than other countries, even nations that are autocratic and repressive (Crabapple, Batt, Boekbinder, & Hampton, 2016). When African-American men, who only make up about 10 percent of the population in our country, also make up over 40 percent of the prison population in America, the system is biased (Koch & Holden, 2015). When the lifetime likelihood of being imprisoned is 1 in 17 for White men and 1 in 3 for African-American men, the system is flawed (DuVernay, 2016). Moreover, macro level reform is needed to keep up with the amount of drug-related offenses that disproportionally afflict men of color.
Harm-reduction models ought to be integrated into communities to encourage the de-stigmatizing of addiction and the encouragement of seeking treatment without judgment. Those who are dealing with addiction are not receiving the support they need, which exacerbates more issues, like a lowered chance of attaining or keeping employment, educational opportunities, stable housing, healthy relationships, or steering clear of the prison system. As a result, much has to be done on various levels to provide support for those plagued by addiction. But above every other measure, compassion and support for those afflicted with addiction ought to be at the forefront of each person in our country. While our nation thrives off of competition and cash flow, can we not afford to take a moment to impart kindness on others who might need that glimmer of affection?
Crabapple, M., Batt, J., Boekbinder, K., & Hampton, D. (2016). Jay Z: The war on drugs is an epic fail. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/video/opinion/100000004642370/jay-z-the-war-on-drugs-is- an-epic-fail.html.
DuVernay, A (Director). (2016). [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.netflix.com.
Koch, C. G., & Holden, M. V. (2015). The overcriminalization of America. Retrieved
from https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/01/overcriminalization-of-america- 113991.