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The Multiple Epidemics of 2020

By | News
The US is batting multiple epidemics – COVID19 and the epidemics of substance use disorder and mental health – both on the rise since the start of the pandemic. As a country, America is facing the potential for catastrophic damage to those not only in substance use recovery but those who are using substances to cope with mental health issues. The Hansen Foundation remains focused on our mission of helping those in substance use recovery. We continue to provide affordable, long-term safe recovery residences, access to treatment, community programs, and the tools needed to lead healthy productive lives for people in recovery. 
COVID-19 IN AMERICA
Stress among Americans has skyrocketed during the Pandemic. COVID-19 has resulted in increased reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder since May 2020 by over 25% compared to the same time period in 2019.  A recent study by the CDC found that 13.3% of adults reported new or increased substance use as a way to manage stress due to the coronavirus and 10.7% of adults reported thoughts of suicide in the past 30 days. There is no question COVID-19 is escalating substance use, creating roadblocks for those in recovery and therefore, increasing the epidemic of addiction.
• Online sales for alcohol increased 243% since states started to quarantine in March. 
• Spirit sales have increased by 75%, beer sales by 66% and wine sales by 42 % compared to the same time period in 2019.
• With the reduction in exports and new travel restrictions, drug cartels are being stymied by reductions in substance supply leading to the use of synthetic or varied potency in drugs leading to overdoses.
• Experts are also concerned that users of illegal drugs could be stockpiling drugs leading to riskier behavior resulting in overdoses and death.
• Reduced recovery support meetings and structure during this time can create feelings of isolation and emotional stress for those in
recovery. Relapse, overdose and death are right around the corner.
COVID-19 AND THE HANSEN FOUNDATION
COVID-19 has presented many challenges for The Hansen Foundation residents. Almost all of our residents were out of work or continue to struggle finding long-term consistent employment.  Some residents did not qualify for government subsidies or unemployment. Social distancing has significantly reduced recovery meetings and some recoverees struggle with online meetings. Reduced recovery support and structure can create feelings of isolation and emotional stress for those in recovery. These feelings can be triggers for relapse as well as for mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, fear, and loneliness. 
In a paralyzing, fearful time for many residents, our team of staff members continues to provide mental and emotional support to residents while teaching that hardship can be navigated with determination, commitment to recovery and finding joy in moments of crisis. To help our residents continue on their path to recovery during COVID-19, The Hansen Foundation’s team is:
• Bringing 12-step and Refuge Recovery meetings to recovery houses to maintain recovery programs.
• Giving support to residents with quarantine house events to create a level of social connectedness.
• Providing food accompanied by healthy recipes and cooking instruction. For some residents, food money is non-existent at this time, so supplemental meals are appreciated.
• Working with clients on flexible payment arrangements knowing we will have to absorb the shortfall.
• Providing an opportunity for individuals to regain employment with stable income through job skill training through a variety of programs for those new in recovery and in sober living.
• Recovery Construction – A progressive and individualized program of construction related skill acquisition. Participants learn accountability, teamwork, as well as skill acquisition in focused construction areas and project management. Individuals develop personal interests in the construction field; eventually moving on to full time work within a specialized trade including union placement.
• Solid Roots Employment Program- Enlightened Farm: A transitional employment and mentorship program for individuals new in recovery to gain hands-on experience at Enlightened Farm. Participants learn fellowship, job training, and skills in environmental stewardship while in
sober living.
• Enlightened Café – A job training program focused on developing food preparation and hospitality-based skills.  Participants learn food preparation and safety, cooking and restaurant operations as well as customer service,
problem-solving, communication, organizational and
teamwork skills. 

ON THE FRONT LINES
We know that the commitment of the United States and the international medical and pharmaceutical companies will lead to a resolution to the COVID-19 pandemic. What we don’t know is how many lives will be altered and lost by substance use disorder when that resolution comes. 
Through support in the past, we have provided Resident Scholarships and supplemental needs for our life-saving endeavors…through our Recovery Residences, Enlightened Farm and Enlightened Café.  The mission of The Hansen Foundation is a personal one for our family and thus, we remain committed to helping others during this unprecedented time as well as today, tomorrow and beyond.

OceanFirst Foundation Continues Commitment to the Hansen Foundation

By | News
OceanFirst Foundation has continued their financial commitment to The Hansen Foundation with the second grant award payment in November of $25,000, part of a total grant award of $75,000 over three years. In 2019, OceanFirst Foundation awarded this Major Grant Award to The Hansen Foundation to renovate a property to be used for Recovery Residences called Serenity Houses. The purpose of this project is to provide additional, safe, supportive recovery housing for people suffering from substance use disorder.

 The Recovery Residence project included structural changes, a complete remake of all bathrooms, laundry facilities, plumbing, electrical and HVAC requirements, flooring, drywall and painting throughout.  It opened on June 1, 2019 to female residents based on census needs at the time. Since opening, we have housed approximately 38 women within the ages of 18-25 at this location on their road to recovery.  The average length of stay in our housing is typically 6 -18 months. Our support staff and house managers help our residents learn how to live in our community, work, get their lives (back) in order after treatment. Many residents do not have insurance and if they did, it does not cover housing. So even our low fee of $180.00 per week is not possible without an entry subsidy boost from our scholarship funds for the first month.

 As you can see on the following page, the renovation of the house is transformative….much like our residents as they attain recovery.  At the Hansen Foundation we create safe, affordable, well-designed recovery residences that support every aspect of healing and maintaining sobriety.   There is a correlation between having a holistic home environment and staying sober.  It is the mission of CEO Jennifer Hansen to ensure that everyone that comes into our residences is provided with a strong foundation to build a substance-free life.  When residents live in a space of aesthetic value, they soon learn to value their self-worth.

Hansen believes in revitalizing the community whenever possible, using existing structures as well as repurposing building materials. To carry out the organization’s sustainability model, Hansen focuses on bringing “old buildings back to life at the same time giving residents a chance at life in recovery through employment and recovery skills training.
OceanFirst’s generous gift to support an additional recovery house could not have come at a more critical time. The year 2020 brought us COVID-19 and studies have shown that drug and alcohol abuse and relapses increased as a result of the virus.  What a gift it was to provide additional safe, clean and affordable long-term recovery housing to residents during the most pressing epidemic of our time.  Each changed life is a miracle and we are happy to have assisted by partnering with OceanFirst to bring about the change.
OceanFirst’s generous gift to support an additional recovery house could not have come at a more critical time. The year 2020 brought us COVID-19 and studies have shown that drug and alcohol abuse and relapses increased as a result of the virus.  What a gift it was to provide additional safe, clean and affordable long-term recovery housing to residents during the most pressing epidemic of our time.  Each changed life is a miracle and we are happy to have assisted by partnering with OceanFirst to bring about the change.

Alumni Impact

By | News

In our recovery residences, called Serenity Houses, our support staff and house managers help our residents learn how to live in RECOVERY by helping addicts participate in their community, work, advocate through legal problems, promote healthy and sustainable life choices, reunite with their loved ones and get their lives back in order. Our recovery residence alumni share first-hand how Serenity House has impacted their road to RECOVERY.

TELL ME ABOUT YOU.

I’m the oldest of three. My childhood was good, I was taught right from wrong. I played sports, I got good grades, and everything was pretty normal. Eighth grade was the first time that I tried marijuana. I tried it to fit in and to be seen as cool. Eventually, I tried alcohol and I really liked the affect produced by substances. It got to a point where all other things went out the window as far as sports, my grades, and my family life. I was consumed by drinking and using. When I was 19, my addiction to opiates had gotten so bad that I went to my first rehab. From the age of 19 to the age of 26, I went to three more detoxes and four more treatment centers. Some were long-term and some were short-term. I moved states, I tried changing my friend group, and nothing worked for me. Every time I got out of treatment, I would go home to the same living environment which was toxic for me and my recovery. I was homeless at one point in Camden. I lost my child through DC PNP system. I did an extended stay in jail. My life got unmanageable. When I was 26 years old, I hit bottom emotionally and knew that I needed to find a different way to live. That is when I made a decision to really try to get sober. Not for my family, not for the courts, not for any outside influence… this time it was truly something that I wanted for myself. – Nicole B.

WHAT DID YOU LEARN WHILE AT SERENITY?

I learned a lot of patience and tolerance.  I was one of the older women in the house and I came from being a mother and wanted to do things for everyone. I realized that that’s not what to do.  I had to learn to be accountable and be responsible for my own things. I also learned that I have to be selfish at times and worry about myself, put myself first to stay well. I also learned how to pay bills on time. I always paid you know, but it was robbing Peter to pay Paul. I learned how to pay bills, make my bed in the morning,  simple things that we don’t think that you’re supposed to do.  I learned to get out of bed, just be active and work a program honestly with accountability.  – Shane R.

WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR HOBBIES IN RECOVERY?

Now I love being part of a 12-step program and carrying the message. I was driving over and thinking why did I get this chance? I was chosen to carry this message…. bottom line. I really enjoy being a part of Enlightened and the recovery community. I do all the things I used to love to do that I couldn’t do because I was always too high or too drunk. I surf all the time, I walk my dog, I clean my house, I pay my bills. I love paying my bills. That’s one of my favorite things in the world because I have money now.
Not a lot, it all goes to bills, but I am happy to pay my bills. Greatest life I have ever known. – Steve M.

WHAT MOTIVATES YOU TODAY?

Today I am motivated by my desire to just live life and to be happy, joyous, and free. I have to remember that I didn’t get clean to be miserable. I am very motivated by trying to be a better person.  – C.C.

WHAT WOULD YOU TELL SOMEONE CONSIDERING COMING TO SERENITY HOUSE?

It’s probably one of your best options to stay clean. They set you up with the tools and everything in life that you would need. For example, they help you if you are trying to find a job, or typing a resume. If you don’t know where to apply, they will help you find those places; if you don’t know how to schedule a doctor appointment they will help you do that too. You need accountability. Every little aspect of staying clean falls into place. I feel like the staff are very caring and I am not just saying that because I’m a staff member now.  People care… from Jennifer Hansen down. – Erin B.

IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE YOU WOULD LIKE TO SAY ABOUT SERENITY?

I would tell them to give it a chance. I was so against coming in and if it weren’t for my house managers and the support of the women I lived with, I do not think I would have made it through early recovery. The staff go to bat for you every single time. The house manager Melissa took me to court to help me sort out all of the warrants I had. She also sat down with my daughter’s father to help us create a plan for our daughter and our time with her. That way, we didn’t have to go through the court system. – Taylor J.

WHERE DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN FIVE YEARS?

It has been five years since I got sober and my life has come such a long way.  Five years from now I would like to finish my undergraduate degree and attain a Masters Degree in social work. I’d like to be working in the recovery field helping others. I would like to be a strong Mom and woman continuing to live this beautiful life that has been afforded. – Nicole B.

Changing the Standards in Recovery Housing One State at a Time – It’s Your Turn New Jersey!

By | News

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, a recovering addict is classified as a person with a disability.  Under the Federal Fair Housing Act, persons with disabilities must be given reasonable accommodation to live together as a family without discrimination.  If a state does not comply with the Federal Fair Housing Act, the law requires the state to reach an accommodation for Recovery Housing on a case-by-case basis.  In NJ, the only model for recovery housing has been the Oxford Houses; all others are classified as Boarding Homes and are subject to zoning regulations.  This has been the grueling fight of the Hansen Foundation with the Division of Community Affairs in the State of New Jersey for the last
eight years!

Jennifer Hansen encountered the problem first in Absecon where she already had the approval from the Atlantic County Improvement Authority for a grant to purchase a house for sober living, but still needed the Atlantic County Freeholders to sign off on it.  Although the latter did not happen and the grant was pulled due to NIMBY (not in my back yard), the first Serenity House for Women opened with 10 beds in 2007. A second house opened in Pleasantville, Serenity Meadows, with 11 beds in 2008… many lives were changed and women became grateful model citizens.  It was in 2012 when a third house opened, the Randy Scarborough House for Men, that problems with the State of NJ began when a NIMBY neighbor complained to the state and we were visited by a DCA inspector.  He said that we had a well-run house, better than any he had seen, but he declared that we were running a “Boarding House” without a license.  If we wanted to say we would be an Oxford House, he would go away and not bother us.  So why not an Oxford House?  Hansen Foundation wanted to MANAGE the house and provide much needed support for those new in recovery…teaching life skills, direction, providing transportation, advocating for court dates, writing resumes, getting a job…all the things you would need in a safe affordable environment to get yourself on your feet.   Oxford Houses do none of this.  They are democratically run and do not allow for any of the positive best practices and policies that were already implemented and working not only in our Serenity Houses, but in many states across the country.

After receiving a hefty fine (that continues to grow), we had the dilemma:   a legal battle or submission?  For the good of those in recovery, we chose the legal battle.  It is now eight years, we are ten Serenity Houses and we have been in and out of federal and state courts (the state keeps changing attorneys) and the DCA refuses to talk with us “because we are in litigation”.  The fines have been stayed at the moment at $560,000!

Of course, seeing that this wasn’t going to be resolved soon, Jennifer approached our local assemblymen Vince Mazzeo and John Armada to sponsor a bill which would authorize a credentialing body to certify recovery residences which operated under the best practices and guidelines of NARR (National Association of Recovery Residences.  That bill unanimously passed the Assembly last year and was promised to be passed by the Senate until Governor Murphy said he wouldn’t sign it at the last minute.  The bill was pulled and we are now starting again.

It shouldn’t be this hard to help people when we are so clearly doing the right thing.  In 2018, the State of New Jersey created a new level of “boarding house” called the “Class F License” specifically for Recovery Houses.  Instead of implementing any of the recommendations of the Recovery providers, a bricks and mortar bill was created that does nothing to guarantee that “Best Practices” are being employed.

Bottom line, the state does not have anything in legislation that protects residences from unethical practices nor proactively governs recovery residences with legal standards and guidelines.  Recovery residences can either provide a runway to sustained recovery or lead to relapse and possibly death for residents.  The Hansen Foundation is fighting to change current legislation to ensure all recoverees in sober living are protected.

HOW CAN YOU HELP?

Legislative Help:  Contact your NJ State Assemblymen and Senators and Governor Murphy to support S-9962 and tell them we need quality standards and guidelines as established by the National Alliance for Recovery Residences (NARR) which is recognized as the Gold Standard for quality by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) and throughout our nation.  To stem the tragic substance use disorder crisis and make New Jersey a model for recovery, we must employ these standards in our State to save and change the lives of our children, brothers, sisters, parents and friends.  (Senator Stephen M. Sweeney (856) 251-8904)

Financial Help: Unfortunately, the Coronavirus cancelled our wildly successful annual fundraising concert.  The foundation is waiting for Governor Murphy to pass the bill that would reverse past legislation that lumps recovery residences together with boarding houses, capping the number of residents in each recovery house. The reduced number of residents resulted in diminished rent revenue of 30% this year. The perfect storm of a fundraising concert cancelled, flexible pay schedules with residents out of work and reduced rent revenue from lower house numbers challenges the Foundation with a financial shortfall this year.  Your continued financial support and in-kind donations continue to make a difference in many people’s lives – we are eternally grateful!

5 Dangerous Myths about Addiction

By | News
One silver lining of the opioid crisis in the US has been to bring the problem of addiction into the open. A lot of people have been personally affected by the opioid epidemic and their experienaces have changed many people’s opinions about what addiction is and who 
struggles with substance use. Along with greater media coverage of the causes of substance use problems, 
attitudes are slowly changing.
 
However, there is still a long way to go and some of the 
persistent myths about addiction prejudice the public against people with substance use disorders and make people with substance use disorders less able or willing 
to seek help. Some common myths about addiction include the following.
 
Addiction Is a Choice

One of the most pernicious myths about addiction is that it’s a choice. This myth is dangerous because it implies that anything that happens to someone with a substance use disorder, whether it’s job loss, divorce, health problems, incarceration, or death, is their own fault. In this view, any sort of punishment is permissible and anyone who wants 
to avoid the consequences of substance use should 
simply quit.
 
In reality, it’s not so simple. While people who use drugs and alcohol typically choose to do so, no one chooses to become addicted. Many, and perhaps most, people who 
develop substance use issues begin using drugs and 
alcohol at a young age, sometimes even before adolescence, when they have little, if any awareness of the 
potential consequences. This behavior is often influenced by dysfunctional family dynamics, peer pressure, or nascent mental health issues, such as ADHD, OCD, depression, anxiety, or schizophrenia. In short, addiction is typically influenced by forces beyond our control and once we realize there is a problem, it’s already very hard to quit.
 
Addiction Is Caused By Lack of Willpower

Similar to the belief that addiction is a choice, many people believe that addiction indicates a lack of willpower or even a weak character. They think that quitting is mainly about showing a little grit and toughing it out. As discussed above, addiction typically has deep roots, including childhood environment, mental health issues, and genes. People do try to white-knuckle recovery but they typically don’t get very far.
 
In order for recovery to last, you have to get at the underlying causes of addiction. This means treating any co-occurring mental health issues as well as addressing trauma, which is incredibly common among people with substance use disorders. Recovery also entails learning essential skills to regulate your emotions and 
behavior and improve your relationships. It requires a good support system and healthy lifestyle changes too. Most people need a bit of help to do all of this.
 
Once an Addict, Always an Addict
 
You’ve probably heard this saying and it’s problematic for two reasons. First, the language is stigmatizing. 
Labeling someone with a substance use disorder an “addict” is common but also counterproductive. It implies that addiction is the person’s defining–and perhaps only–characteristic. Indeed, it implies they are hardly even a person but rather something more like a drug-seeking missile. Stigmatizing language compounds the shame of substance use and makes it harder for people to seek help.
 
Second, this saying implies that recovery is not really possible, that no matter how much effort you put into turning your life around, you’re always just one drink away from unraveling. Such cynicism about recovery can make you reluctant to even try, much less persist when things get challenging. In reality, people do make lasting change with the right attitude and the right help.
 
You Can Always Spot an Addict
 
We all have some stereotype of someone with a substance use disorder, and while there are probably people who fit that stereotype, it doesn’t even come close to encompassing everyone with a substance use problem. If the opioid crisis has taught us anything, 
it’s that anyone can develop a substance use issue under the right circumstances. While you might 
suspect the guy begging for change under the 
overpass has a substance use problem, you might not suspect the lawyer who lives in a nice house or the grandmother who was in a car accident last year.
 
In fact, people who are professionally successful 
are often just as capable when it comes to hiding 
their substance use problem, at least for a while. 
Sometimes even friends and family don’t suspect someone has an issue. One of the reasons so many misconceptions about addiction persist is that it’s 
a largely invisible problem.
 
Drugs and Alcohol Fry Your Brain
 
If you’re old enough, you might remember the “brain on drugs” commercials of the 1980s. Although those commercials are typically remembered with derision, the idea that too much drugs and alcohol can fry your brain still persists. This can make it hard to recover 
because some people feel like the damage is done, that they’ve ruined their brains, and no amount of effort will make them whole again.
 
In reality, the picture is more complicated. In some 
extreme cases, such as early-onset dementia or 
Korsakoff syndrome, which typically only happens after decades of heavy drinking, brain damage is 
permanent. There is also some debate over whether the structural changes that often occur in your brain after a period of addiction are ever fully reversed.
 
However, we also know that brains are highly plastic, meaning the structure will change, depending on what we ask our brains to do. With persistent effort and the right help, you can train your brain to focus, to regulate your emotions more effectively, to weather cravings, and to feel better overall.
Many of the myths about addiction are the result of victim-blaming while others pass as “tough truths.” However, these can perpetuate the stigma of addiction and make it harder for people to get help. It’s crucial to remember that people with substance use disorders are first and foremost people and that they are often people in pain. What’s more, recovery is possible.
 
At The Hansen Foundation, we know that addiction isn’t something anyone chooses. Few people realize how they got into their particular mess and they rarely know how to get out. That’s where we come in. We use a variety of evidence-based methods to address the root causes of addiction and lay the foundation for a long recovery. To learn more, call us today at 609-270-4443 or visit our website at www.hansenfoundationnj.org.

How You Can Help Reduce the Stigma of Addiction

By | News

Although we’ve come a long way in our views about addiction, there is still a serious stigma attached to it. A 2018 poll by AP-NORC found that while 53 percent of Americans view addiction as a disease that needs treatment, negative views of addiction remain common. For example, 44 percent said they thought addiction showed a lack of discipline or willpower and 33 percent said it was a character flaw. This stigma has real-life consequences, since it compounds the shame people with substance use disorders already feel, prevents them from seeking help, and makes the public prefer punishment to treatment. Although no individual can significantly reduce the stigma of addiction, we can each do our part. The following are some ways you can help reduce the stigma of substance use disorders.

Learn as much as you can about addiction

First, it’s important to learn as much as you can about addiction. You may feel that since you, or someone close to you, have struggled with substance use yourself, then you know all you need to know. While that certainly gives you valuable insight, many people who have been personally affected by addiction aren’t aware of the complex causes of addiction. In fact, addiction science is still relatively new and researchers are discovering more all the time.

 

If you don’t want to spread misleading information, you have to do your own research. You might want to start with overvviews of addiction by reliable sources, such as information available on the websites of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institute of Mental Health, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse. These typically share research-based information, about which there is broad—but not total—consensus. You can learn basic things like the role of genetics, mental health, childhood environment, and trauma play in addiction, as well as which treatment methods are backed by scientific evidence.

Beyond that, there are many good books about addiction written for a general audience. Some good ones include Unbroken Brain by Maia Szalavitz, In the Land of Hungry Ghosts, by Gabor Mate, and High Price, by Carl Hart. There are also a lot of great addiction and recovery memoirs out right now. These can be especially valuable for people who have never personally experienced addiction.

Examine your own attitudes

In the course of researching addiction, you will inevitably change some of your attitudes, but it’s also important to make sure that new attitudes inform your behavior. For example, you might understand, rationally, that addiction is caused by genes, mental health issues, and so on, and still feel judgmental toward someone with a substance use disorder. Additionally, even if you have struggled with addiction yourself, you may not necessarily have a compassionate attitude toward other people who are also struggling with addiction. In fact, sometimes people in recovery are even more judgmental, especially if they feel a lot of shame about their own substance use. If this sounds like you, it’s possible that you need to talk to a therapist to work on your own issues around shame and self-criticism. This will help you feel better about yourself, and it will help you feel more connected to others in recovery.

Use compassionate language

How you talk and write about addiction and people with substance use disorders signals your beliefs and feelings about addiction. Avoid using language that’s judgmental, dismissive, or dehumanizing. Certainly never use derogatory terms like “junkie” or “crackhead,” but also be careful about other labels like “addict” or “alcoholic,” since they tend to reduce a person to their worst quality. Instead, remember that a substance use disorder is a disease and use “person-first language.” So, instead of calling someone an opioid addict, it’s better to say “person with an opioid use disorder.”

Since language is fluid and can be implicitly negative as well as explicitly negative, it may help to adjust your mental model of what someone with a substance use disorder looks like. We all carry some stereotype of addiction and these may not bear much resemblance to reality. Keep in mind that addiction is largely invisible, since many people go to great lengths to hide their substance use issues. When you talk about someone struggling with substance use, you may be talking about a friend or loved one; perhaps someone who is in the room. Always remember that you might be talking about your best friend, your sibling, your child, or your parent.

Call out wrong or misleading information

In addition to watching your own language around addiction, don’t be afraid to say something when you hear others use stigmatizing language or when you hear or read misleading information. Most people who repeat inaccurate information or use stigmatizing language just don’t know any better and are simply repeating what they’ve heard. Let them know—respectfully—that what they’ve said could be construed as offensive and damaging. Correct any misinformation so they can at least not plead ignorance in the future. Even if you don’t change the person’s mind, you might change the minds of some other people in the room or at least expose them to new information. This doesn’t only apply to casual conversation, either. If you happen to see stigmatizing language or wrong information elsewhere, such as the news media or social media, reach out—again, respectfully—and let someone know. Most of the time, content creators want to be objective and avoid giving offense, so you may be doing them a favor.

Share your own experiences with addiction and recovery when appropriate

As noted above, part of the reason the stigma of addiction persists is that addiction is largely invisible, so the the most visible examples of people with substance use issues are the homeless, the unemployed, and the incarcerated. If appropriate, sharing your own experiences with addiction and recovery can put a real human face on addiction. People are typically persuaded by positive examples: both by people who have obvious positive qualities despite their substance use issues and by people who have recovered from addiction. You might be the example that disrupts someone’s negative stereotype. You may also be the example that gives someone with a substance use problem the courage to ask for help.

The stigma of addiction is real and it stands in the way of more people getting help. While you can’t get rid of the stigma on your own, you can certainly do your part. Educate yourself, monitor your own beliefs and language, and correct misinformation when you hear it. At Enlightened Solutions, we understand that people are complex and addiction is just one aspect of a person’s life. Our holistic approach to treatment aims to heal the whole person—mind, body, and spirit. To learn more, call us today at 833-801-5483 or explore our website.Examine your own attitudes.

In the course of researching addiction, you will inevitably change some of your attitudes, but it’s also important to make sure that new attitudes inform your behavior. For example, you might understand, rationally, that addiction is caused by genes, mental health issues, and so on, and still feel judgmental toward someone with a substance use disorder. Additionally, even if you have struggled with addiction yourself, you may not necessarily have a compassionate attitude toward other people who are also struggling with addiction. In fact, sometimes people in recovery are even more judgmental, especially if they feel a lot of shame about their own substance use. If this sounds like you, it’s possible that you need to talk to a therapist to work on your own issues around shame and self-criticism. This will help you feel better about yourself, and it will help you feel more connected to others in recovery.

Use compassionate language

How you talk and write about addiction and people with substance use disorders signals your beliefs and feelings about addiction. Avoid using language that’s judgmental, dismissive, or dehumanizing. Certainly never use derogatory terms like “junkie” or “crackhead,” but also be careful about other labels like “addict” or “alcoholic,” since they tend to reduce a person to their worst quality. Instead, remember that a substance use disorder is a disease and use “person-first language.” So, instead of calling someone an opioid addict, it’s better to say “person with an opioid use disorder.”

Since language is fluid and can be implicitly negative as well as explicitly negative, it may help to adjust your mental model of what someone with a substance use disorder looks like. We all carry some stereotype of addiction and these may not bear much resemblance to reality. Keep in mind that addiction is largely invisible, since many people go to great lengths to hide their substance use issues. When you talk about someone struggling with substance use, you may be talking about a friend or loved one; perhaps someone who is in the room. Always remember that you might be talking about your best friend, your sibling, your child, or your parent.

Call out wrong or misleading information

In addition to watching your own language around addiction, don’t be afraid to say something when you hear others use stigmatizing language or when you hear or read misleading information. Most people who repeat inaccurate information or use stigmatizing language just don’t know any better and are simply repeating what they’ve heard. Let them know—respectfully—that what they’ve said could be construed as offensive and damaging. Correct any misinformation so they can at least not plead ignorance in the future. Even if you don’t change the person’s mind, you might change the minds of some other people in the room or at least expose them to new information. This doesn’t only apply to casual conversation, either. If you happen to see stigmatizing language or wrong information elsewhere, such as the news media or social media, reach out—again, respectfully—and let someone know. Most of the time, content creators want to be objective and avoid giving offense, so you may be doing them a favor.

Share your own experiences with addiction and recovery when appropriate

As noted above, part of the reason the stigma of addiction persists is that addiction is largely invisible, so the the most visible examples of people with substance use issues are the homeless, the unemployed, and the incarcerated. If appropriate, sharing your own experiences with addiction and recovery can put a real human face on addiction. People are typically persuaded by positive examples: both by people who have obvious positive qualities despite their substance use issues and by people who have recovered from addiction. You might be the example that disrupts someone’s negative stereotype. You may also be the example that gives someone with a substance use problem the courage to ask for help.

The stigma of addiction is real and it stands in the way of more people getting help. While you can’t get rid of the stigma on your own, you can certainly do your part. Educate yourself, monitor your own beliefs and language, and correct misinformation when you hear it. At The Hansen Foundation, we understand that people are complex and addiction is just one aspect of a person’s life. Our holistic approach to treatment aims to heal the whole person—mind, body, and spirit. To learn more, call us today at 609-270-4443 or explore our website at www.hansenfoundationnj.org.

The Hansen Foundation, Inc.
4 E. Jimmie Leeds Road
Galloway, NJ 08205
Phone: 609.270.4443

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