Kentucky alone has been extensively battling the drug epidemic and overdose complexities. Overdosing is when a person consumes higher doses of a chemical substance than their body can feasibly tolerate. In 2021, it was reported that 2,250 Kentuckians died from a drug overdose; this is a 14.5% increase from the prior year. Unfortunately, 2020 saw a 50% increase (Hall, 2022).
With International Overdose Awareness Day approaching (August 31st), it is crucial to become knowledgeable about how we can address these statistics. One contributing factor hindering individuals from seeking treatment and reaching out for support is the heavy stigma associated with SUDs (Doweiko, 2015; Hall, 2022).
So, let’s break the stigma!
3-step guide to break the stigma around Substance Use Disorders
Step 1: Language
Let’s begin scratching the word “addiction” from your vocabulary and replace it with “Substance Use Disorder (SUD).” For example, practice saying “a person with a substance use disorder” instead of “a person with an addiction.” By changing your language, you acknowledge that the person is battling a problem/illness instead of perceiving that they are the problem.
Other stigmatizing words to avoid: user, drug abuser, junkie.
Step 2: Knowledge
Understanding the science behind a person’s SUD may be the key factor in breaking the stigma. It is unlikely that a person wakes up one and prefers reliance on an addictive substance to keep going-so what happened?
First, acknowledge that some individuals are more susceptible to becoming dependent on substances than others. This is explained through epigenetics. You have probably heard “it’s in their blood” or “it’s genetic”. Genes are, in fact, a contributing factor to a person’s SUD. When this trait is passed on, a person can be more easily triggered and influenced compared to their counterparts. This also contributes to the difficulty of quitting the substance.
Additionally, substances alter brain chemistry, contributing to a person’s inability to address their SUD. The next time you hear someone say “just quit,” you now know that it’s not that easy. This chemical alteration takes over a person’s behaviors and dictates decision-making, but recovery is possible and sustainable. With support from family, friends, healthcare professionals, and their community, the likelihood of successful treatment increases and the chances of overdose decrease (Doweiko, 2015).
Step 3: Awareness
Did you have previous knowledge of the presented information? Now, consider if your best friend, grandparent, neighbor, colleague, etc., is aware of the information. If you can think of one person in your life who does not have that information, that is one person too many. By sharing this information, you are already taking a massive leap in spreading awareness. The more factual knowledge a person has, the more likely they will become compassionate for the cause, contributing to communal change.
Do you or someone you know need help with a substance use disorder?
For free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information, you can visit https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline or call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). EKU students can also contact the Eastern Kentucky University Counseling Center (EKUCC) at 1-859-622-1303 or visit https://counselingcenter.eku.edu/crisis-services. Initiating EKUCC services is a RAPID ACCESS (no appointment needed) process.
Meet the author: Stephanie Burris, BSW, MSW Candidate
Hi fellow change makers. I am Stephanie Burris and I am so honored to share my passions with you through creative writing. I am from Berea, Kentucky, where I truly believe there is magic in the soil. After receiving my BSW from EKU, I am currently working toward my MSW there as well. I have a love for the complexities of the brain and truly understanding the many contributions toward the human experience- so my passion is truly rooted in the human race. I am thrilled to have the experience of a GA for the MSW program and serve as a student rep on the Student Advisory Board. These positions have presented with me various opportunities to dive more into research, developing and expanding my understanding of our unique existence.
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Doweiko, H. E. (2015). Concepts of chemical dependency (10th ed.). Belmont, CA:
Hall, M. (2022). Increased use of fentanyl largest contributor to rise in death toll. Kentucky.gov.
Eastern Kentucky University Counseling Center: 859-622-1303
The more people are aware, the more people care. The more people feel seen, the more they start to believe.