How To Stop Blaming Others For The Opioid Epidemic

opioid epidemic

The blame game is alive and well, but we need to stop blaming others. The opioid epidemic grows while we as a society are blaming others and judging those who are addicted to the opioid drugs. We must work together for a viable resolution to this epidemic, and here are my suggestions.

It appears to be human nature for us to want to find a reason, cause, or another person to blame for something that has happened to us or to a loved one. Think of how easy it is for us to throw blame around when we are caught practically red-handed in an act. How did we learn this?

The blame game has been with us since our earliest days of childhood. As a child, we tried the excuse that someone else made me do it to see if that excuse would work. Depending on your childhood it had varying success, yet any time that it worked we learned that blaming was a viable excuse. As we’ve grown into adulthood many of us continue to use this excuse.

Many of my clients want to find who is to blame for the way they are today. They are convinced that if they find out which parent or sibling created the current negative thoughts or behaviors all would somehow magically be well. Yet this isn’t the case, so I don’t allow my clients to go down that path.

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When my clients, or even ourselves, wish to find someone in the past to blame for our current situation all that we are doing is avoiding our responsibility and our actions for making a change today. Even if there were someone from our past legitimately responsible and whom we could blame, how would that change who I am today? All that does is to serve as knowledge but doesn’t give me anything to do that will change how I feel or act today. Therefore, I stay away from the blame game in all situations as it serves no purpose in the present but only to educate us about the past. So even if a client’s parents were to blame for their current situation it is still up to the client themselves to make the necessary changes which will make their lives better. The same goes for the blame game when it comes to addiction and the opioid epidemic.

Over the past couple of decades, I’ve worked with thousands of people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol, guiding them into lives of recovery. Each of them needed to work on their present lives and make changes so that their recovery would be a daily way of life. Blaming their families, communities, doctors, or Pharmaceuticals only serves to focus our anger away from what needs to be dealt with at the present moment. At this moment we need to take action and make changes as a society or else this opioid epidemic will not end.

I don’t write this out of a naive ignorance to the societal factors and big business practices which led to the epidemic and opioid overdose deaths we are encountering today. I can make a very long list of who I would blame for this opioid epidemic, but as I’ve stated, what’s the point? What we need right now are solutions and actions to ensure that this epidemic does not become a generational epidemic.

I suggest that the first change which needs to be made is a philosophical shift in how we as individuals and society think of addiction. Many in society do not believe that addiction is a disease unlike any other mental health or medical disease. Their blaming the person with the addiction only serves as a moral judgment on a person’s character. Yet if that same person were to suffer from any other chronic medical disease they would receive the proper care without question and without judgment.

For example, a person who is discharged from addiction treatment and later relapses is judged for their lack of willpower and character. In many instances, they are not allowed back into treatment or they are told to find a different treatment facility. Yet a person who is discharged from the hospital recovering from a heart attack who is told what changes they need to make in their physical activity, as well as diet, are not judged or criticized if they fail to make those changes and end up with another heart attack. What’s the difference? The one person did not follow the recommendations of their treatment provider and returned to drug use while the other person did not follow the recommendations of their treatment provider and had another heart attack. Yet the person who suffers the second heart attack will be readmitted to the hospital without question nor judgment. This societal attitude must change!

What can we do to make a difference in solving this opioid epidemic? Here are my suggestions:

  1. Educate ourselves on the current state of the opioid epidemic and learn about your local resources available to help those suffering from addiction and struggling in recovery.
  2. Gather as a neighborhood or community pooling together your resources to work on viable solutions unique for your community. As a society, we need to stop saying that we want this epidemic to stop while at the same time deny the building of treatment centers or recovery housing near or in our neighborhoods.
  3. Doctors and Mental Health Counselors need to be educated about the addiction field and best practices for treating those who are in active recovery. As a counselor and an educator myself, I find it disheartening that the addiction courses I teach to those in the counseling profession are only electives and not mandatory courses. Medical professionals such as doctors are in the same educational situation where they may only have to take one addiction studies class in their entire career. This is not to blame either of these professions but to provide them the necessary knowledge and tools since they are in the front line of this epidemic.
  4. Be compassionate to those you know who are in recovery or still suffering from their active addiction, and don’t forget about their families who also need compassion and support.

If we tackle this opioid epidemic in light of its medical and mental health status we will turn this around and as a society, we will reap the rewards of a healthy populace.

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5 Tips on How Mindfulness Will Change Your Life

mindfulness goal

 “Hey, did you see that?”

“No, I missed it. What was it?”

Does this conversation sound familiar? It sure does to me. My days were so busy and hectic that I had no time to care to notice something other than the task hand. At the end of each day I wondered where the day went! I had always lived that way, until recently.

A few years ago I changed jobs to one which allowed me to have the summer off. After 20 years of working year round, having a few months off was strange, and even unsettling. After a week without I had no idea what to do with myself. I was ”forced” to slow down. It wasn’t comfortable at first, but over time I started to discover that I was physically, mentally, and spiritually slowing down. As I was slowing down I found myself feeling more peaceful. As the summer progressed I no longer was anxious, I didn’t rush, and I began to notice the world around me.

I wasn’t yet consciously aware of this, but I was beginning to live mindfully. As I slowed myself I focused my thoughts and attention to the present moment. No longer was I dwelling on my past nor anxious about the future. Wow! What a change for me as previously I was the king of anxiety and worry!

Mindfulness is commonly defined as: “a means of paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” (Jon Kabat-Zinn) Personally, the two key phrases in this definition which I feel are important are “on purpose” and “nonjudgmentally”. To find our inner-peace we need to consciously make the choice to spend time every day focusing our attention on what is happening around us and within us. Our focus is not meant to judge what is happening, just to notice it, to experience it.  As we become aware of our surroundings and inner self, we become aware of life’s joys and potential. In this state of focused awareness, we are enabled to see solutions; to see hope.

The goal of mindfulness is for us to slow down enough to fully experience life. Mindfulness is not a means to avoid negative aspects of life, but to fully live those experiences to learn how to cope with them in a healthy way. Many of us try to avoid negativity, yet discover that we may be successful at avoidance for a time, yet once again we are hit with that which we were avoiding. Mindfulness asks us to be aware of all of our emotions, to feel everything, even the negativity. In so doing, we end up coping with what we at first wanted to avoid. Coping teaches us skills for dealing with future negativity in our lives.

Living mindfully is a daily practice of noticing the little things. For example, one can eat mindfully by doing so intentionally, savoring each bite, and not rushing through a meal without truly tasting the food. During your commute, or rushing from one task to another, one can mindfully (intentionally) notice the details of the flora, buildings, people, cracks in the sidewalk, etc.

How does mindfulness lead us to feeling peaceful? The short answer: mindfulness guides us to live in the moment, for it is only in the moment where we have “control” in our lives. By control, I mean our ability to change our thoughts and perceptions. If I allow my thoughts to stay in either the past or the future, I will suffer from stress and anxiety since I have no control over those time periods. All that I can do with the past is to learn lessons; in the future, all I can do is prepare, in the moment, for the unknown which has yet to happen. Therefore, keeping my thoughts focused on the present moment allows me to feel life to its fullest, while choosing the thoughts I wish to think.

A bit over 5 years later I now find myself living in a sense of peace. Does this mean that my life is now perfect? Not at all! What it does mean is that through mindfulness I learned a new set of coping skills. This is what I’ve learned since that summer:

  1. Spend time each day in meditation, whether it be in stillness or walking. Just 10-20 minutes a day will calm and center you.
  2. Each time my thoughts venture to either the past or the future, I consciously change my thoughts to the present moment.
  3. Spend time noticing the little things in life. Observe your surroundings, your feelings and your thoughts.
  4. If you notice that you don’t like how you feel, our you are not feeling at peace, change your perspective and redo numbers 1-3 above.
  5. Always believe in hope, even if you don’t feel hopeful at the moment. Hope and change is possible even without my belief in it.

Inner-peace is attainable if we take the time to focus our thoughts on the present moment. It takes practice; I’m still working on it. But if you have the desire to incorporate mindfulness into your daily practice, follow this maxim: “Progress, not perfection.” (Eds. Note: This article was originally published at Your Tango. Reprinted with permission from the author.)

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