What Social Factors and Stigmas Contribute to Addiction in Rural Communities?

Life in rural America is not the idyllic opportunity long represented in movies and television. Limited access to gainful employment, the farming crisis and lack of health care have led to despair among many trying to live in the least populated areas of our nation. Isolation and untreated stress and mental illness are just a few of the social factors and stigmas that contribute to addiction in rural communities.

For those doing the sparsely populating in sparsely populated areas, family ties are critical. If your family struggled with addiction, that was the pattern you learned as well. You may see drug and alcohol use as a standard behavior of adulthood. Rejecting this lifestyle may, in fact, be viewed as a betrayal and lead to a loss of family connection and support. Additionally, many addicts who want help feel trapped, as any local addiction treatment organization offers little privacy. To receive treatment, they must come under community scrutiny and judgment, so they suffer alone and try to make changes they’re not equipped to implement.

Lack of Access

Limited access to counseling and therapy may leave those who struggle with addiction to seek guidance from less-than-prepared members of the community, including medical doctors and religious leaders. While these professionals can help people approach the addiction battle from different viewpoints, they’re not equipped to provide long-term guidance for the recovering addict who seeks help in building new brain and life pathways to wellness. In addition, too many of these would-be counselors cannot provide the privacy that a recovering addict requires to trust in their counselor.

Unfortunately, rural addicts also face the stigma of the community belief that addiction is a failing of character. Asking for help, particularly for men, is not viewed as a wise decision but as a lack of strength. An addict spinning toward a dangerous binge may feel that they have no options for seeking support. Female addicts may not be able to get treatment for their addiction until the condition impacts a pregnancy or damages their marriage. Often, the first line of “treatment” for addiction in rural regions is the local policeman.

Underlying Ailments

It’s commonly known that addiction runs in families. In addition, many who struggle with a family history of addiction also have a family history of mental illness. Untreated mental illness, including anxiety and depression, are often underlying conditions among addicts trying to manage their condition by masking it. Community judgment and expectations can be crippling; the struggling addict may simply be expected to behave that way and never given the chance to see other options in the world.

Those suffering from anxiety may turn to opioids. Someone suffering from agitation could be soothed by a prescription sleep aid, or they may turn to black market valium or alcohol. A depressed person may develop an addition to methamphetamines or cocaine. If limited medical care means there’s little help for an underlying mental illness, then addictive drugs may be the closest treatment available.

The Financial Connection

Someone suffering from chronic pain may need the opioid they’re receiving via prescription. However, if they have no or little income because they can’t work, then selling the prescription drug and self-medicating with marijuana may actually be the best financial choice to feed their family. Breaking the law may be the only way to be a responsible parent.

One of the big struggles for rural families is directly tied to the lack of access to decent employment and making a living. While it used to be true that it was cheaper to live in the country, the consolidation of retail services into big box stores now means that the basics of living, like groceries, clothing, and fuel, are actually more expensive. You may also have to drive further to get them. Illegal drugs are a big industry in some parts of rural America, and in too many areas, they’re the only work available.

Addicts in rural America need the chance for treatment of their whole person. In addition to battling the illness that is addiction, they must have access to therapies and treatment for their underlying conditions. Addiction is an illness and it will kill if left untreated. Our counselors are available 24 hours a day. Call 772-934-6580.