We as a society are really doing a terrible job helping people overcome alcohol abuse or alcoholism.
Recognized as a disease by the AMA, treatment coverage remains severely limited by most insurance providers, and the high costs of treatment deter hundreds of thousands of people a year, wanting treatment, but unable or unwilling to foot the bill. Even more disturbingly, an incredible number of people who recognize the need for treatment, and who are not unwilling to seek out and even pay for treatment, cite the fear of social repercussions and stigma as a major factor deterring them from initiating treatment.
Here is the breakdown
- 18.6 million Americans have an alcohol abuse problem or dependency
- A mere 8% of these people gets treatment each year
- 4.5% of these people recognize a need for treatment, but for a number of reasons don’t get it…and of these 4.5% (which works out to well over 700 000 people)
24% say a major reason why they don’t get treatment is the fear of social stigma.
So about 175 000 Americans, who recognize that they have a problem and want help don’t get it out of a fear of social or professional repercussions. They would rather continue to be alcoholics, than get better and become labeled as recovering alcoholics…which is a dismal appraisal by hundreds of thousands on the true mood of tolerance within our country. No one would ever avoid chemotherapy for fear of being labeled a cancer survivor!!!
Although alcoholism is recognized as a disease, we continue to treat people afflicted with the condition as social pariahs, who could choose not to drink, but through a lack of willpower, loose morals or sheer self indulgence, just won’t stop drinking. That anyone would choose the heartbreak, ravaged health, and family pain of alcoholism belies belief, but through extension of popular logic, alcoholics must therefore choose these accompanying destructions.
And I wish I could say that those alcoholics that make the decision to avoid treatment out of fear of social repercussions are crazy or paranoid…but I don’t believe that, and although I don’t believe that any price is worthy of the continuing destruction of active alcoholism, there most undoubtedly is a stigma attached to alcohol recovery, and people will pay a social cost for getting treatment.
Never overt, the subtle repercussions’ endure for years after successful abstinence. Whether it’s being continually passed over for deserved promotion, never being invited to coach little league or enduring the chilly civility of neighbors, the costs are not imagined. As a recovering alcoholic, and someone who has participated in treatment and has always been open about my disease; I have felt the discrimination of the ignorant and the uninformed. I never regret having sought treatment, but neither am I naïve any longer about the true attitudes of too many in our country.
Alcoholism is a disease!!!
We need people to understand this, and understand that by continuing this subtle discrimination of recovering alcoholics they propagate the condition. Alcoholism inflicts a heavy price on society and all of us are affected, and by perpetuating myths and stereotypes we all make the problem worse. We contribute to more DUIs, more family abuse and more early deaths. Any time anyone discriminates against or belittles a recovering alcoholic or the disease in general, there may be a still drinking alcoholic within earshot, realizing the price they’ll pay for conceding to treatment. Out of compassion, and out of self interest, all in this country should make it clear through our actions and our words, that we do accept alcoholism as a disease, and that we respect those that can beat it.