In the past few months, the number of people falling victim to addiction has increased in numbers – to truly epidemic proportion. As we fight one epidemic, this one, which has taken a back seat and become a quiet one, is taking a huge toll on its victims as well, destroying families, stealing lives, causing havoc in communities. We don’t get to see just how much addiction has been destroying the society because as usual, it’s a topic that’s not really covered by media, and if it is, it’s never really given a proper and complete platform. It’s a problem that doesn’t go away, and maybe the only time people realize the gravity of it if it’s a famous person dying from it. Then it’s this juicy, drama-filled train wreck news item that occupies our space for a few days, sparks few discussions, a few debates, and then it goes away the way it always does. Yet it exists now more than ever, and I am here to tell you first-hand how devastating it has become. But unlike most of my blogs, in this one I want to talk about the other side of the coin – mainly how addiction affects addiction professionals.
We, addiction specialists are told that addiction is a chronic disease. Yet we are not given the support or funding to treat it as such (in the study “Burden of treatment for chronic illness: a concept analysis and review of the literature” in Health Expectations, it says:
“The findings underscore the need for researchers and health‐care professionals to engage in collaborative discussions and make cooperative efforts to help alleviate treatment burden and tailor treatment regimens to the realities of people’s daily lives.”
As it is right now, even with a team of other health professionals, it is often the addiction counsellor who deals with most of the tasks involved in taking care of a person with addiction. We are the first-responders, we organize after care, we are there when relapses happen, and we also deal with stressed-out families and loved ones. We are often responsible for help in finding treatment, further medical care, housing, employment, community resources, and so on. It’s a massive job and it can get exhausting. Now, don’t get me wrong—I absolutely love what I do but I am astonished at how little help the health industry and the government is prepared to give me to assist me in my job. Sometimes, I am the sole source of a client’s stabilization and recovery before I am able to connect them with community and other health professionals. I don’t have a large team, I don’t have unlimited resources, and I am dealing with people who need help sometimes on an on-going basis (because addiction is chronic).
In many cases, while dealing with a chronic disease, I would have a team of people to help. If I were a doctor helping someone with Alzheimer’s, we would have access to resources and funding that’s not always available to clients with addiction. This is because addiction is still stigmatized, and I believe, to some extent so are the professionals who work in the field. In the same study, it was concluded that:
“Given the potential negative impacts of treating a chronic illness(s), researchers and health‐care professionals need to engage in collaborative discussions and make cooperative efforts to help alleviate treatment burden in order to optimize health outcomes. Continued research into treatment burden, its definition, assessment and impact, is needed to understand people’s burden experience and implement treatment that suits the realities of daily life.”
I think seeing addiction professionals as people who are in the field of chronic disease would allow us to get help we need to help our clients and avoid the sort of burnout I feel if going at it alone for too long. Fighting addiction should be a collaborative, community effort – otherwise, in that most ironic twist, the disease of isolation and desperation leaves even its healers isolated and desperate.
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