Stop Saying Addiction Disease is “Invisible.” It’s Killing People.

Addiction disease is just as visible as a heart attack. We need to open our eyes to actually look and listen.

Two Emergency Room Case Vignettes

Vignette 1: Heart Attack Response

The examining doctor thinks it could be a heart attack and I get admitted. I go to the ICU where I am observed and monitored. I am indeed experiencing a heart attack, and need surgery. I wake up. Luckily, I live through my heart attack. I am now given all types of information and resources for my aftercare; diet changes and restrictions, medications, caregiver information, and more. While I struggled at first with the changes, I get better over time. Even after a few years, my family and healthcare providers continue to check-in and make sure I’m doing well. I feel supported.

Vignette 2: Addiction Disease Relapse Response

Things immediately change. I feel judged by the language the nurse is using. They ask me if I really stopped using because based on what I’m telling them, it sounds like I’m in withdrawal from recent usage. Hours pass and I have not been seen again. The nurse and doctor eventually come back and I can hear them saying things like “malingering” and “drug-seeking.” They do a brief evaluation. They say that they don’t see anything wrong with me. That this is all just in my head and that I’m fine. They give me a sheet of paper with what appears to be a list of walk-in clinics. They don’t give any other resources or helpful information.

At this point, I’m even more anxious and feel completely alone. I leave the emergency room and immediately place a call to an old connection. I go get that lockbox with all the tools I use to use to help me get some relief. Alone in my apartment, I take the amount I normally would before I stopped using. The pain and anxiety go away. Though the high feels different and more intense than I remember. Then the whole world disappears into darkness.

When we call something “invisible” it makes it much easier to ignore and disregard. If it can’t be seen, then why bother attending to it? Nothing can be done if it is invisible, right? That’s the mentality that gets created when we call mental health and addiction diseases invisible.

Did you spot the differences?

Did you see anything that was the same?

“…the fact of the matter is that when someone in distress walks through the doors of any healthcare facility they deserve to be treated with respect, compassion, and empathy for whatever they are experiencing.”

Invisibility Kills

All of those symptoms are physically visible. We just have to look and listen closer for signs of anxiety and distress. When we call something “invisible” it makes it much easier to ignore and disregard. If it can’t be seen, then why bother attending to it because we won’t be able to anything about it? That’s the mentality that gets created when we call mental health and addiction diseases invisible. We must stop saying these diseases are invisible. The pain is real. The distress is real. The disease is real.

The fact of the matter is that when someone in distress walks through the doors of any healthcare facility they deserve to be treated with respect, compassion, and empathy for whatever they are experiencing. They are humans in need of support and we must treat them as such. The consequences of not doing so are deadly.

Mental Health Professional, Synesthete, Foodie. My Real Housewives Intro would be: “I’m loud and Profound.”