Have you ever wondered how substance users get hooked on their drug of choice? Why do some people only smoke weed, while others pride themselves on never picking up a drug, yet they binge drink 5 days a week? There are other people who smoke meth, or snort cocaine, and most recently we’ve seen countless people become addicted to prescription opioids. These opioids are similar to heroin in strength and effects and that’s why many people switch to intravenous methods of street drugs after taking a doctor’s prescription.
For some reason when we talk about addiction, we stigmatize heroin, meth, opioids and other “hard drugs,” more than we do alcohol. We dehumanize people who use needles and get lost in their addictions while we dismiss people who drink alcohol every day of the week as normal, or at the very least, “not that bad.” In my own experience, the fact that I wasn’t addicted to opioids or using needles, I could pay my rent, and could generally present to the world that I was keeping my life together, kept me drinking for many years.
After I got sober, I even eliminated the fact that I abused cocaine, ecstasy, weed, and yes, prescription pain pills, from my story at first. I talked strictly about alcohol because I knew that was more socially acceptable. Even though I took prescription pills when I didn’t need them, recreationally, and while drinking alcohol, they never became my drug of choice. That was always alcohol.
Just because I wasn’t addicted to opioids at the end of my drinking and using doesn’t mean I dismiss the current opioid epidemic. I do not wash my hands of this important component to recovery advocacy. I know some advocates avoid talking about the opioid epidemic because it seems far off from reality for them. They might not have direct experience with it and it might seem scary and big. They might not feel like they can do anything to help, but that’s where they’re wrong.
We all need to be talking about the opioid epidemic, just like we all need to be talking about Recovery Month. This is the deadliest drug crisis in American history. Accidental drug overdoses are the leading cause of death for Americans under age 50. In 2016, overdoses were responsible for more deaths than guns or cars accidents, and these deaths are rising faster than deaths during the HIV epidemic’s peak.
The reason this addiction epidemic is so hard to tackle is because it has several components – over-prescription of opioids by doctors, the appearance of pill mills, a changing heroin market, entrance of Fentanyl into drug supplies, and addiction treatment that is expensive and hard to come by. Shaming people for needing help, dismissing harm reduction tactics to save lives, and trying to make opioids illegal all together doesn’t help.
Some sober people think there isn’t much we can do to help outside of calling our representatives to support or oppose certain bills, or sharing only on the topics that we know about – in my case, alcohol. But I believe it’s our responsibility to speak out on what’s happening in our world right now. We can educate ourselves on the current opioid epidemic. We can read, learn, and speak out in our communities. We can even do the simple task of talking about addiction and recovery to strangers and people we know. In this way, we can break the stigma, combat harmful stereotypes, and provide resources and hope to those who need it. Just the other day I was speaking with a group of friends at breakfast who were talking about a woman who they said “looked like a crack addict.” I told them you can’t always tell what who is a drug addict or alcoholic by looking at them. There is no certain way that people with substance use disorders look. I followed up by saying addiction doesn’t discriminate and it doesn’t matter what you look like or where you come from, it can affect you.
It’s time we stop being silent. There are actions we can take towards change, today; now. Alcohol is also responsible for countless deaths. Addiction as a whole is something that should be addressed by all of us, but let’s not separate ourselves from the opioid epidemic any longer. It doesn’t matter what our drug of choice was. It only matters that we all have common ground. We have all suffered the heartache and hardship of addiction. Not all of us are lucky enough to find recovery, but if we continue to talk about it, if we continue to speak out about all drugs, we can change that. We can make a difference. We can save lives.
That’s why I still talk about the opioid epidemic, even though I wasn’t addicted to opioids.
About the Author
Kelly Fitzgerald is a sober writer based in Southwest Florida who is best known for her personal blog The Adventures of a Sober Señorita. Her work has been published across the web including sites like The Huffington Post, Thought Catalog, Ravishly, SheKnows, Elite Daily, The Fix, Brit + Co, Addiction Unscripted and AfterPartyMagazine. She is currently writing a memoir.