Those of us recovering from substance misuse or relationship/behavioral issues combined or experienced individually continue to be stigmatized and shamed. Many professionals are either mis-informed about recovery and the obstacles we face daily and in our healthcare.

There is a close link between addiction and mental illness. In fact, most people struggling with mental illness turn to drugs or alcohol to deal with the difficult-to-manage symptoms of undiagnosed or untreated conditions.

Substance Abuse & Mental Illness

Many people struggle with substance abuse and mental illnesses, including depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and other conditions, concurrently. The most abused substances include prescription drugs, street drugs, and alcohol.

Self-medicating with these substances provides temporary mood changes but causes long-term damage to an individual’s mental health status and quality of life. The stigma surrounding mental illness only adds to the shame that individuals who are struggling with drug addiction deal with daily.

It can be difficult to many people to admit that substance abuse and mental illness are prevalent issues in their lives. There is a stigma that mental illness and addiction equate to weakness. This is far from the truth. Overcoming mental illness and substance abuse issues requires courage, strength, and commitment.

The Medical Profession & Addiction

I recently had emergency surgery that started with the ER doctor diagnosing me with constipation after an x-ray of the abdominal area. They sent me home with directions to get a laxative, which included finding a pharmacy open at 3 am.

I found a CVS that was open and bought MiraLAX. A t about 6am I started taking as directed. Immediately after the second dose I vomited many times, each time worse than the time before. My primary care doctor sent me back to the ER at about 1pm.

The ER doctor this time ordered a scan. The results presented an infected enlarged gall bladder. The diagnosis was to admit me to the hospital and schedule emergency surgery to remove the gall bladder. This took place late afternoon, but the surgery could not be done until the next morning at 6:30am.

Due to an abundance of more important emergencies, I was not taken to pre-op until about 11pm. The following is my conversation with a second anesthesiologist who was began is interview with me as follows: 

He said,” How much do you drink?
I responded, “I don’t. I am clean sober almost 17 years.” 

Him, “But you drink occasionally?”
Me, “No, not at all.”
Him, “Yeah, you take narcotics?”
Me, “Look at my chart! I don’t drink or take any unprescribed drugs.”
Him, “Sure, but you do some narcotics or drink alcohol?”
He repeated this accusation 3 or 4 more times.
Finally, I lifted myself up from the gurney and told him to “Fuck Off!!!”

The point of me telling this story in this context is my experience with the medical profession in the 21st century is still uneducated or impervious to alcoholism/substance misuse. 

Hopefully if we repeat our story to others and talk about our stories publicly and honestly, we may be able to reduce the stigmatization.

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