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Friday, May 5, 2017

Mark Zuckerberg On Addiction Stigma

Americans spend an exorbitant amount of time on Facebook. And to be fair, the Social Network is not without its appeal. It allows people to reach others who would otherwise be out of reach. Staying connected is a huge part of maintaining relationships, especially with the constant hustle and bustle of everyday life. Many of us are too young to remember a time before the social media platform first graced college campuses across the country and beyond. On the flip side, many older Americans find that they pine for the days when people were not concerned about friend requests, likes and the reach of their status updates.

But as anyone in addiction recovery will tell such people, as with all things life—we cannot turn back the clock—social media is here to stay. While it can become easy to spend too much time scanning one's timeline and it can be even easier to lose sleep about the awful things said and done to others online, FB has the power to affect much change for the better—especially regarding breaking down the stigma of mental illness and using complex algorithms to flag users who may need help.

It is widely accepted that one of the most effective measures against seemingly perpetual stigma, about mental health disorders like addiction, is talking about the condition openly. Sharing the science behind the disease and the fact that it is a treatable condition, humanizes the condition. And it could be argued that at no other time in our history is compassion more important; one need only consider the American opioid epidemic and the recent Surgeon General’s report on addiction (the first of its kind), which showed that only 1 in 10 people receive any kind of specialty treatment for the disorder.


Reaching Out About Addiction

A number of icons and celebrities have used their status for good with regard to addiction over the years. One of the most renowned addiction treatment centers in the country is named for a former First Lady. That being said: In the digital age, reach is everything. And one cannot deny that the founder and CEO at Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, qualifies as having a global reach with 89,643,710 Facebook followers.

Which is why it is comforting to learn that Zuckerberg has begun to wrap his head around the seriousness of addiction in America. Last weekend, the social media mogul met with recovering addicts and the families who lost a loved one to an overdose in Dayton, Ohio, The Huffington Post reports. What’s more, it appears that he was affected and understands that need for changing the conversation about addiction and would like to be a part of the solution. He shared some of his observations and what he learned from his experience in what could only be called a remarkable post. I hope you will take a moment to read it below:

I just sat down with people recovering from opioid addiction and people helping them get treatment in Dayton, Ohio.

The opioid epidemic is one of the worst public health crises we've faced. More people die from it today than died from AIDS at its peak, or that die from car accidents and gun violence. The rate is still growing quickly.

The pull from opioids is incredibly powerful. A man I met said that when he saw someone overdose, his first thought was who that person's dealer was so he could get better stuff. Another woman who was forced to give up her kids said it wasn't because she didn't love them. She just needed the feeling from getting high more.

Everyone in Dayton is affected by this. One woman told me her daughter, who is a recovering heroin addict, got promoted to hostess at the restaurant where she works because the last hostess overdosed in the bathroom. Another woman whose husband is a police officer said her family hears overdose calls coming over the radio every night. The Dayton police department once responded to 29 overdose calls in a single day. She's worried it's all going to seem normal to her young daughter.

Treating an epidemic like this is complicated and the people I met say it's years from even peaking. But they also came back to the importance of connection and relationships.

A big part of recovery is surrounding yourself with people who are a positive influence and will help you avoid situations where you might relapse. You can't get dragged back down. One woman told me she'll talk someone down who is about to use, but she won't go out to a drug house to find them. She has to look out for herself first.

Purpose is also really important. One man who has been in recovery for seven years told me, "Most addicts have destroyed personal relationships, stolen from their family members, sold their cars for drugs, and they have to rebuild all of that. We have to help them develop a sense that they have a goal in life, and we have to do it one addict at a time."

The people I met also talked about how important it is to reduce the stigma that comes from being a recovering addict. One woman who has been clean for a year told me, "If we're in active addiction it doesn't mean we're not human. Even if we're not living our potential at this moment we have a chance to do something with this life." Another told me, "It's important that addicts don't end up as 'those people.' It's not 'those people,' it's your neighbor, and you need to be there to support them."

This touches everyone. People I work closely with have had family members and high school friends die of overdoses. Ohio and communities all across the country have a long road ahead, but as someone told me at the end, "I'm hopeful because we're talking about it." Me too.


A Compassionate Stance On Addiction

Stigma remains to be one of the biggest obstacles in the way of people seeking and getting the help they require. There are millions of Americans actively abusing one substance or another, and all  those people are somebody's child. Not just beings who lack moral fiber. The sooner we treat addiction as we would any other chronic illness, the more likely individuals will be able to seek help for it. Treatment works. Recovery works. Stigma is but a black mark that needs be erased. We can all have a hand at making the findings of the next Surgeon General’s report on addiction more promising.

If you or a loved one has been touched by this insidious mental illness, and is actively in the grips of abuse, please contact Celebrate Hope at Hope by The Sea. We can help.

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