When you hear the word “alcoholic” what do you think of?
Those who have little experience with substance abuse will likely picture a drunk living on the street or passed out in an alleyway. It’s rare that those struggling with alcoholism fit this stereotype, but those who do tend to be the most public. The stigma that develops from the image of a drunk in an alleyway is detrimental to people in recovery for two reasons.
First, if they don’t fit that stereotype, it is easier for them to deny their own problem.
Second, they can be fearful of the judgment if they admit they are alcoholics and not seek the help they need. Some alcoholics avoid treatment for years because of denial. Acceptance is the only way to get them into treatment: both acceptance of self and acceptance of others.
The alcoholic is not an anomaly; they simply use maladaptive behaviors to cope with problems. Maladaptive behaviors are so common that even people not struggling with alcohol dependency use them. A Huffington Post article reports that 14 million Americans are problem drinkers; either alcohol abusers or dependents. Millions more are addicted to hard drugs, gambling, working, food, video games, exercise, or any number of behaviors.
The author, Anne Wilson Shaef, goes so far as to say most Americans are addicted to something due to the stressful nature of our society.
Not everyone will judge the alcoholic so harshly, especially those who have experienced a similar struggle. Connecting with others in recovery is a good way to meet supportive friends. You can expect a lot of patience and understanding from others who are walking the same road as you. Helping others in the same boat can also make you feel better about yourself and more confident about your situation.
Be sure to wait until you are secure enough in your own sobriety before you start helping others.
Alcoholics often have negative emotions about themselves. They can tell themselves that they are bad or damaged people because of their addiction. Instead, try to reframe your thoughts to see yourself as a person in recovery, and know that you’re doing the best you can. This may be very difficult to do at first, and it will take practice, but it is possible to get there. A good place to start is with positive daily affirmations.
Try looking into the mirror and saying “I love and accept myself”. Even if you don’t believe it, you will come to believe it with time. Additionally, find a physical attribute and an emotional attribute that you like about yourself. Explain out loud why you like those things. Continue speaking positively to and about yourself as often as you can.
You are an artist, a mother, a lawyer, a husband, a supportive friend, and so on. You may struggle with alcohol dependency but that does not define your existence. Now that you are facing the problem, think about who you want to be outside of your addiction.
Stereotypes come from a lack of understanding. Communicating with others that you are doing your best to overcome your addiction may help diminish the stigma of alcohol abuse on a wider scale and shift the narrative away from clichés and stereotype. Moreover, your story may inspire someone to face his or her own addiction and start the journey toward alcohol recovery.
Speak up, get help, and be a voice for change.
Kathleen Esposito is a certified addictions counselor in the Pacific Northwest. She helps individuals recover from drug, alcohol and gambling dependencies through group and individual therapy and regularly speaks at treatment centers.