Discrimination in Recovery: How a New Study Highlights the Need for Support and Education About Addiction and Recovery

Discrimination In Addiction Recovery
December 23, 2019

A new report from researchers at the Recovery Research Institute and Center for Addiction Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Harvard Medical School (HMS) is putting the spotlight on discrimination experienced in recovery from alcohol or drug addiction.

Published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, the study is a first, looking specifically at those who report they are in recovery, thus not acting on symptoms, and the kinds of judgments and challenges they face.

In the survey protocol, the researchers solicited answers from a sample of adults in recovery, asking if certain micro or macro-discrimination situations had occurred due to their history of substance or alcohol use disorder.

The results, after adjusting to data subsets and skews, pointed to the presence of significant discriminatory experiences and consequential negative impacts.

Almost 50% of people answered that others assumed they would relapse back to past behaviors and about 38% noted that their history seemed to cause people to hold them to a higher standard.

Aside from those social and relational topics, many acknowledged major barriers to resources due to prior struggles with addiction.

This included 16% who said they were denied employment, 15.2% who had trouble getting medical insurance coverage, and 9.4% who reported that they were denied housing because someone knew about their pre-recovery actions surrounding drugs and alcohol.

This points to a concerning trend, whereby people who are fighting to maintain their recovery and move into new chapters of their lives are facing huge obstacles, psychological distress, and decreased support and resources.

On researcher specifically noted that this was not only an unfair burden to bear, but also could stop those who need help from pursuing it out of fear of backlash and judgment.

Choosing to seek help for addiction is a brave and life-saving step. Continuing that commitment from treatment through a return to everyday life is integral, though sometimes tough.

Addiction is a chronic disease and does require management and attention through every stage of life to ensure health and well-being.

However, this does not translate as someone being unable to move forward from destructive behaviors and lead a fulfilling life.

Promoting education and advocacy helps to shine a light on the true face of addiction, and myth-busting breaks down walls created by assumptions and misunderstanding.

While it’s still a work in progress, society is increasingly talking about the importance of good mental health and opening dialogue on previously taboo topics.

In the meantime, it’s important to understand the reality. Not for it to feel discouraging, but to empower you to prepare and walk through recovery feeling as supported as possible.

With treatment teams and support networks, you can develop plans, build confidence, and remember why your recovery is so important.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) provides only resources for recovery, from a first search for help to concerns with discrimination years down the line.

This includes series about knowing your rights around employment, housing, and voting to ensure you are aware of what is and isn’t legal.

What’s more important, however, is shifting your mindset. You may be spared from macro-discrimination, but the stereotypes and surface-level assumptions about those who struggle with addiction to alcohol or drugs are likely to pop up now and again.

Know that without first-hand experience, many are left with only a pop culture or news media portrayal of addiction, where it’s more often a villainous character not shown much humanity.

While addiction as a sickness can make you do bad things or make poor choices, it’s not a definer of who you are as a person. And, as recovery shows, people can change and evolve, improving and developing beyond previous behaviors and tendencies. 

Some people will be open to discussing or hearing from you, others won’t be persuaded. When one is stubborn in their view and presumptions, another person may be more open and supportive than you expected. Not every interaction or relationship will be altered by negative connotations about addiction and recovery.

What matters the most is that you know and recognize how addiction is stealing your life and choose to take back your power through treatment and recovery. Know that the recovery community is a safe space with people that understand and support you, even if the outside world is a bit behind in their perception.

No matter what phase of addiction or recovery you are in, do not allow fear of discrimination keep you from working toward the peace and health you deserve. Your life depends on it.

Finding a safe and supportive environment in which to heal from addiction is a first step to reclaiming your life. Recovery isn’t an easy journey, but we promise it’s worth it and you won’t walk alone. At Steps Recovery Center, we see you as a person, not as an addict, a problem, or as defined by your past. Call today – 385-250-1701 – to talk with our trained clinicians about your treatment options and how we can advocate for you along the way.

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