Posts Tagged ‘stigma’

Dry January: Good Luck, be Careful

Tuesday, January 9th, 2024

Addiction and Recovery
By Bob Gaydos

  82177B6B-D6C2-417C-982F-899EE49E1C21  For those looking for a New Year’s resolution that can actually be challenging to keep and potentially beneficial if done the right way, I offer some thoughts I shared last year when I first heard about Dry January and some new ones.

    You hang around with an experienced group of people for any amount of time, with any luck, you learn a few things. 

     I’ve been writing a column on addiction and recovery for more than 15 years. In that time, I have been fortunate to have many conversations with members of Alcoholics Anonymous who have decades of sobriety. They have freely shared some of their experience and wisdom with me.

      One bit of AA wisdom goes like this: “People who don’t have a drinking problem don’t have to control their drinking.”

       Hmmm. So why are social media and news feeds filled daily with stories on “Dry January”? Why the sudden interest in non-alcoholic beer and no-booze cocktails? What’s the big rush all of a sudden for, reportedly, thousands of people to decide to see if they can not partake of alcohol for the month of January? Last year, one poll said 41 percent of respondents planned to partake of Dry January. I couldn’t find a report on how well they did, but clearly, not drinking alcohol for one month at least is suddenly chic. 

  For what it’s worth, alcoholics, or rather, those who insist they are not alcoholics, have been taking the post-holiday challenge forever in valiant efforts to prove to themselves and (mainly) others that they can control their drinking. Often, they’ve failed. Rehab February. Others have attempted to give up drinking for Lent, for the same reason and often with the same results.

     But this is different. This is people, many apparently younger people, supposedly deciding that it might be in their best interest to abstain from or at least reduce their alcohol intake, at least for the month.

     Given recent reports on an upsurge in alcohol consumption (particularly by women) during the pandemic, an increase in alcohol-related deaths and a myth-busting report which concludes that “no amount of alcohol” is ever good for your health, going dry or easing up on alcohol for a month sounds like a reasonable idea for anyone.

      But there are risks involved and if you’re intrigued by the idea of stopping or controlling your drinking there ought to be rules. For starters, what is your purpose? Is it, as previously mentioned, to prove you don’t have a drinking problem? If so, you need to tell other people what you’re doing so there is accountability and, crucially, protection, in case a serious alcohol problem does exist. 

  Going through withdrawal symptoms from avoiding alcohol on one’s own can be painful and dangerous. Be aware of the symptoms and get professional help if they begin. Your effort may have failed, but it might have saved your life.

     If, on the other hand, the purpose is truly to see if life can be just as interesting and fun without alcohol always being involved, again, don’t do it alone. Get some friends involved. Plan alcohol-free activities. Try some of those fancy new alcohol-free “mocktails” the Dry January movement has spawned. If you’re really serious, maybe focus more on exercise. Try to get more sleep. See if you start to feel better physically and emotionally.

     Drawing again on some AA wisdom, the key to succeeding, whatever your goal, is to be honest and realistic. Whether you’re trying to not drink for a specific month or just cut back, if you find yourself drinking or thinking you’d really like to be drinking in spite of your stated goal, by all means start over again. But be aware of any recurring pattern. There may be a problem.

      On a positive note, if Dry January results in a more responsible general approach to alcohol consumption (as brewers and distillers are obliged to promote), it has to be good for society’s overall health. Excessive alcohol consumption contributes to a multitude of societal and health problems as well as highway and other accidents.

    Fad or not, the movement would also go along with the effort by health agencies and providers to remove the stigma and shame often attached to alcoholism by getting rid of the word “alcoholic,” which still conjures up negative images for many people. Today, people are diagnosed with alcohol abuse disorder, mild, moderate or severe. (Sober members of AA still call themselves alcoholics with no shame attached.)

   According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol use disorder “is a medical condition characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences.”  That’s the “drinking and trouble” connection members of AA often talk about.

      On the basic issue of stopping drinking and trying to keep things simple, AA’s Third Tradition states that “the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking.”

     Adding that touch of reality necessary to recovery, an AA friend asked, “Who would have a desire to stop drinking other than someone who drank too much and got in trouble over it?”

     With sincere hope for the success and good intentions of anyone participating in this year’s Dry January, that’s a question to keep in mind for anyone planning on a just plain February.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

After Dry January, Dry February?

Wednesday, January 25th, 2023

Addiction and Recovery
By Bob Gaydos

  82177B6B-D6C2-417C-982F-899EE49E1C21  You hang around with an experienced group of people for any amount of time, with any luck, you learn a few things. 

     I’ve been writing a column on addiction and recovery for about 15 years. In that time, I have been fortunate to have many conversations with members of Alcoholics Anonymous who have decades of sobriety. They have freely shared some of their experience and wisdom with me.

      One bit of AA wisdom that I’ve thought about recently goes like this: “People who don’t have a drinking problem don’t have to control their drinking.”

       Hmmm. So why have my social media and news feeds been peppering me daily with stories on “Dry January”? Why the sudden interest in non-alcoholic beer and cocktails? What’s the big rush all of a sudden for, supposedly, thousands of people to decide to see if they can not partake of alcohol for the month of January? It’s suddenly chic?

   Alcoholics, or rather, those who insist they are not alcoholics, have been taking the post-holiday challenge forever in valiant efforts to prove to themselves and (mainly) others that they can control their drinking. Often, they’ve failed. Rehab February.

     But this is different, from what I read. This is people, many apparently younger people, supposedly deciding that it might be in their best interest to abstain from or at least reduce their alcohol intake, at least for the month.

     Given recent reports on an upsurge in alcohol consumption (particularly by women) during the pandemic, an increase in alcohol-related deaths and a myth-busting report which concludes that “no amount of alcohol” is ever good for your health, going dry or easing up on alcohol for a month sounds like a reasonable idea.

      But there are risks involved and if you’re intrigued by the idea of stopping or controlling your drinking there ought to be rules. For starters, what is your purpose? Is it, as previously mentioned, to prove you don’t have a drinking problem? If so, you need to tell other people what you’re doing so there is accountability and, crucially, protection, in case a serious alcohol problem does exist. 

  Going through withdrawal symptoms from avoiding alcohol on one’s own can be painful and dangerous. Be aware of the symptoms and get professional help if they begin. Your effort may have failed, but it might have saved your life.

     If, on the other hand, the purpose is truly to see if life can be just as interesting and fun without alcohol always being involved, again, don’t do it alone. Get some friends involved. Plan alcohol-free activities. Try some of those fancy new alcohol-free “mocktails” the Dry January movement has spawned. If you’re really serious, maybe focus more on exercise. Try to get more sleep. See if you start to feel better physically and emotionally.

     Drawing again on some AA wisdom, the key to succeeding, whatever your goal, is to be honest and realistic. Whether you’re trying to not drink for a specific month or just cut back, if you find yourself drinking or thinking you’d really like to be drinking in spite of your stated goal, by all means start over again. But be aware of any recurring pattern. There may be a problem.

      On a positive note, if Dry January results in a more responsible general approach to alcohol consumption (as brewers and distillers like to promote), it has to be good for society’s overall health. Alcohol consumption contributes to a multitude of health problems as well as highway and other accidents. It would also go along with the effort by health agencies and providers to remove the stigma and shame often attached to alcoholism by getting rid of the word “alcoholic,” which still conjures up negative images for many people. 

     Officially today, people are diagnosed with alcohol abuse disorder, mild, moderate or severe.

   According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol use disorder “is a medical condition characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences.”

     That’s the “drinking and trouble” connection members of AA often talk about.

      On the basic issue of stopping drinking and trying to keep things simple, AA’s Third Tradition states simply that “the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking.”

     Adding that touch of reality necessary to recovery, an AA friend asked, “Who would have a desire to stop drinking other than someone who drank too much and got in trouble over it?”

     With sincere hope for the success and good intentions of many a Dry Almost Over January, that’s a question to keep in mind for anyone planning on a dry February or Monday or maybe next Tuesday …

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

An Addict by Any Other Name, Please

Tuesday, June 4th, 2019

Addiction and Recovery

By Bob Gaydos

  What’s in a name? Maybe, recovery.

"New" me, at 73.

Bob Gaydos

Addiction — to opioids, alcohol, heroin, other substances or behavior — is a medically recognized disease, something for which treatment is available and prescribed so that the person who suffers from it can be returned as a contributing member of society. That’s the official, appropriately concerned line put forth by government agencies, the medical community and those who work in the field.

    Unofficially, which is to say, to much of society including members of the aforementioned groups, a person with the disease of addiction is commonly referred to as an addict. A drunk. A junkie. A cokehead or crackhead. An alkie. A pothead. A pill-popper. He or she is often regarded as someone who is weak-willed, immoral, untrustworthy, rather than someone suffering from a disease. A liar. A loser. Someone not worth the time or effort — or money — to associate with, never mind help.

   One of the major obstacles to persons seeking treatment for addiction is the stigma attached to the disease. It has been framed seemingly forever as a moral issue, a crime issue. Rarely — only recently — has it been framed as a health issue. We have waged a war on drugs as we tried to cure cancer or diabetes.

    Words matter.

    Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania lbast year released a study with the key recommendation to stop using the words “addict,” “alcoholic” and “substance abuser.” The study found the words carry a strong negative bias. Basically, the researchers said, they label the person, not the disease. Study participants not only displayed a reluctance to associate with persons described with those words in fictional vignettes, the researchers said participants also displayed “implicit bias” to the terms themselves when given a word-association task. They were subconsciously reacting negatively to the words.bbb

     If just the words can stir negative bias in people, imagine what an actual person carrying the label “addict” can arouse.

     The Penn researchers said their study was consistent with previous research that found some doctors, even mental health professionals, less willing to help patients who were labeled “addicts” or “substance abusers.”

     The researchers did not discount the fact that conscious bias against persons with addiction — for example, how involved one would want to be with the person described — is often based on personal negative experiences with “alcoholics” or “addicts.”  Family members, friends, co-workers have experienced pain and suffering from their connection to persons with alcohol or substance use disorders and a resistance to not just “calling them what they are” may be understandable.

      But, the researchers said, over time, adopting what they call person-first language (referring to a person with a heroin addiction rather than a heroin addict) — especially by public officials and the media — could help reduce the negative bias and stigma that keeps people from seeking and getting help for their disease.

       In 2017, prior to this study, the Associated Press, which publishes a style guide used by most news organizations, adopted a new policy on reporting on addiction. It recommends that news organizations avoid terms such as “addict” and “alcoholic” in favor of person-first language — someone with an alcohol or substance use disorder or someone who was using opioids addictively, rather than a substance abuser or former addict. Someone in recovery, rather than someone who is “clean.” Shift the blame from the person to the disease.

     This doesn’t excuse or absolve the person who is addicted from any damage he or she may have done, and it may be considerable. But it does provide an identity beyond the addiction and makes the road to recovery more navigable.

     Earlier this year, the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News adopted a policy similar to AP’s.

      The concept is simple: A person should not be defined solely by his or her disease. When mental health professionals stopped referring to patients as schizophrenics, society started referring to people with schizophrenia. Similarly, there are people with diabetes today who once were labeled diabetics. It is often argued that alcoholism or addiction are different from other diseases because the person chooses to use the substance. But experience tells us no one chooses to become addicted and the nature of the disease is being unable to stop — or at least feeling that stopping is not possible. Negative labels can’t help.

       Government agencies have begun using the new language, referring to persons with alcohol use or substance use disorders rather then alcoholics or addicts. Some who have managed to face their addiction and overcome it have abandoned the anonymity of 12-step programs and identify themselves publicly as persons in recovery. The opioid crisis has spawned a program called Hope Not Handcuffs, which steers the person who is addicted to treatment rather than incarceration.

       An exception to the change in language is recognized for those who are in 12-Step programs who identify themselves as alcoholics or addicts at their meetings. These are people who don’t see the terms as negatives, but rather as an honest admission of a fact in their lives. Members of Alcoholics Anonymous have been saying, “My name is xxxx, and I’m an alcoholic” at meetings for nearly 84 years. It’s tradition. There’s no stigma attached, but rather a common bond that holds out the hope there is something beyond being labeled a “drunken bum” or “hopeless addict.”

      The groups recommending the language change say this is not merely “political correctness,” as some have said. Lives are obviously still being ravaged by addiction. If something has to change in approaching the disease, there is a growing feeling that how we talk about it might be a good place to start.

Bob Gaydos is a freelance writer. rjgaydos@gmail.com