There can be little doubt that the stigma around substance abuse disorders in our culture can do much damage to individuals struggling with an addiction to substances and the families and friends of these individuals. In the media, substance abuse disorders are still often portrayed as problems that other people experience. Somehow, notions of shame have crept into the national discourse around what it means to suffer from a substance abuse disorder.
Partly this state of affairs has to do with public perceptions of substance abuse in general. A rock star or an actor who has overcome a substance abuse disorder and has spoken publicly about their struggles will quite simply make more waves in society than a doctor or lawyer who very privately struggles with a substance use disorder from within the walls and gates of an elite country club.
Here are just a few of the professions that people with substance abuse disorders have had:
- Business Executive
Do you notice a pattern from this list? Many of the professions listed here certainly don’t fit the stereotype of individuals who struggle with substances. And yet suffer they do. And oftentimes they suffer in silence.
Like many illnesses, in fact, substance abuse disorders are not limited to issues like social status or education level or income. Surgeons are just as likely to suffer from substance use disorders as musicians. A Wall Street executive managing an anxiety disorder by abusing pain medications bears more similarity to an actor struggling in public with an alcohol use disorder than he might care to admit.
The real difference is that we rarely see the Wall Street executive discussing his issues with substance abuse problems on television. And so we get the impression that addiction only affects certain professions or certain individuals. The notion of the “struggling artist” who must use substances to rein in their emotions is still a powerful symbol in society. But such symbols allow us to forget about the teachers, nurses, and attorneys who struggle just as much with substance abuse issues.
To wit, an addiction to substances such as pain medications can happen to literally anyone in any walk of life. Whether the person is a doctor or an artist, the story is often the same: After a routine surgery or an injury, the person is prescribed a medication to help with managing feelings of intense pain. And with that medication eventually comes both psychological and physical dependence.
This is a point that is often glossed over in the media. In these cases, a person has no intention of becoming addicted to a pain medication. Neither was there some grand design to develop a substance abuse disorder. The person may not have even wanted to take a medication at all.
To wit, we often make addiction out to be a character issue when it is in fact far more complicated a problem than we might expect. People find solace in substances for a wide variety of reasons that often have nothing to do with their fundamental characters or beliefs as human beings. Oftentimes substances are used as a kind of stopgap to treat underlying conditions such as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder or to treat early experiences of trauma.
Allow me to illustrate this concept with a story. I once knew a person who appeared to everyone else to be at the top of the world. This person seemed to have it all: They were an executive at a top company; they lived in a big house in a beautiful and desirable neighborhood; they were popular with others and seemed to radiate success and confidence. In other words, they lived up to the ideal of what society thinks a successful person should be like: Clean-cut and always nicely dressed, they’d have seemed perfectly at home in both an executive boardroom and in an elite country club.
On the inside, however, this person was struggling mightily with problems: Memories of childhood abuse haunted them. To combat these memories and the difficult emotions that arose as a result of them, this person turned to substances as a form of relief.
To the outside world, this individual led the perfect life. But he was struggling in his marriage and struggling in his job; his addiction was a ticking time-bomb.
If you walk through any upper-middle class neighborhood in this country, you will find plenty of people like this individual. As a society, we like to think that substance abuse only happens to a certain type of person. But you don’t have to be a rock star to become addicted to pain medications. And being a member of the country club set doesn’t mean that addiction won’t affect you or your family.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction to pain medication, remember that this is something that can happen to literally anyone. Get in touch today at 833-846-5669 if you feel like professional support might help you. You are not alone!