Drug users are often misunderstood

Addiction and the notion that individuals need alcohol or drugs to cope with life creates negative feedback from society.

Karen Griessel, a social worker at Rand Aid’s Wedge Gardens substance abuse treatment centre, believes this leads to discrimination as addicts are called “junkies.”

“This negative connotation often stems from personal bias and hurtful experiences suffered as a result of active addiction behaviour. Often addicts and alcoholics are ostracised. People avoid and reject them.”

“This, in turn, has a negative affect on them as they are unwilling to seek treatment because they expect healthcare workers to have a negative attitude towards them too, especially in general medical or hospital care,” she said.

Griessel said those who inject drugs face an even greater level of rejection.

Wedge Gardens‘ patients shared their experiences of receiving minimal care in certain state hospitals after an overdose because of care workers’ perceptions.

“Furthermore, harm reduction initiatives are frowned upon due to the stigma already instilled in people. Needle exchange outreach programmes are perceived as enabling those addicted to continue using drugs rather than as an attempt to prevent HIV/Aids infections and the spread of Hepatitis C, also known as inflammation of the liver,” said Griessel.

She explained that opioid (heroin) substitution therapy, which serves to provide a medically-monitored replacement drug like methadone, is also misunderstood.

“It gives the user a better chance in the long-term to beat the psychological obsession linked to addiction.

“Fighting stigma must begin on an individual level by practising compassion, kindness, listening and, importantly, seeing the person as a whole and not just an addict or alcoholic. This is not always easy, especially if you have been hurt repeatedly by a loved one.

“When the stigma is lifted, education regarding the process of addiction and recovery will be more openly accepted socially,” she said.

Contact Wedge Gardens on 011 430 0320.

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Buli Sonqishe

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