The stigma around substance use disorders is high, particularly among health care professionals. Indeed, the very same people who spend their lives devoted to caring for the ill and injured often shun patients who struggle with substance abuse or dependence. A large systematic review (2) that looked at this issue showed that we, as clinicians, feel manipulated by these patients and helpless to offer them anything meaningful that will restore their health. We sometimes resent these patient and avoid them. We often label them as “drug-” or “pain-seekers”. We perceive patients with substance use poorly motivated to change and “weak-willed.” It also showed that negative attitudes of health professionals caused them to be more task-oriented in their delivery of health care and less empathetic. This led to patients’ diminished feelings of empowerment and poorer subsequent treatment outcomes.
As we think about this topic, it is critical to recognize that while some perceive addiction to be a consequence of bad luck or personal failure, resulting from poor choices, others identify addiction to be an illness. We might think to ourselves that our perspective on the topic is borne out of proven scientific inquiry, but the fact that we understand addiction so poorly strongly suggests that our perspectives have more to do with our personal contexts (the experiences over the course of our lives) than with science. As such, we potentially enter a physician-patient relationship with long held biases and assumptions that may or may not pertain to the individual patient for whom we are caring at a given point in time.
By the end of RP 101: Addiction, you (the learner) will be able to:
- Thoughtfully examine your own biases around and reaction to addiction and people who suffer with addiction.
- Bring a question for discussion and explore, in a small group setting, the experience of listening to the stories and struggles of people living with addiction.
- Identify and explore the sources of your bias and your reactions.
- Identify the positive and negative implications of your biases and reactions, to help understand the implications for patient care in the future.
- Consider what you’ve learned about yourself and about addiction, and develop a plan to mitigate the negative and enhance the positive implications of the reactions you identified above.
Attend the group meeting as requested at the beginning of the module.
Review at least one of the resources listed on this page
Bring to your assigned group discussion notes about the following:
- Your reaction(s) to the group meeting and one of the resources listed above.
- How did it feel to be in a room with a lot of people struggling with addiction?
- What expectations did you have about the experience going in?
- Did anything change for you between what you thought it would be like and what actually happened?
- Your personal context for your reaction
- Do you have any personal or family experience with addiction?
- How is it different to see/meet people in their world in this setting, as opposed to when we bring panelists into yours/ours?
- 2 positive implications and 2 negative implications for future health care based on those reactions
- What are the implications for having assumptions about people struggling with addiction?
- A question for the group to discuss around this topic