Most people would like to consider themselves as enlightened, progressive and deeply in tune with the inner workings of just about everything; but when push comes to shove, we all have our inherent biases, including toward those battling drug and alcohol addiction; this reality was bared out in a recent survey, which revealed a “complex” American perception toward addiction and those who struggle with it on a daily basis. The poll was conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and revealed that, while a small majority of Americans see prescription drug addiction as a genuine and bona fide medical disease, most would be unwilling to welcome sufferers into their communities, places of business or families.
An Identity Crisis
The poll also revealed that over ten percent of respondents had a relative or close friend die from an opioid overdose. These revelations come as more and more Americans are succumbing to fatal overdose due to both prescription and illicit opioid addiction. While the perception toward addiction is slowly turning toward that of a medical disease, many still seem to be wired to view it as a moral failing. Although 53 percent of Americans view addiction as a medical problem, they remain wary of the afflicted. Fewer than one in five Americans are willing to closely associate with someone suffering from drug addiction as a friend, co-worker or neighbor.
The Tangible Consequences of Stigma
The National Institute on Drug Abuse describes addiction as a long-term treatable brain disease, and most other medical authorities agree that it is a legitimate medical condition. This overtly judgmental perception toward addiction matters primarily because it has led to the creation of punishing and shortsighted policy as well as limited treatment access to a population that sorely needs. On one side of the proverbial fence, we are a nation that is quick to prescribe potentially addictive opioids for often-nonessential reasons; on the other, we seem to be a nation that is slow to offer compassion, or even emergency help, to those who fall victim to them.