The definition of a stigma is ‘a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person’.
Another definition has it as ‘a set of negative and often unfair beliefs that a society or group of people have about something.
Those who have used drugs in the past, or who still do, commonly face stigmatisation. Possibly the biggest hurdle a recovering long term drug or alcohol user has to overcome is not physical addiction or psychological cravings - but trying to break through the ‘wall of exclusion’ that makes it very hard for them to get into new routines or to develop friendships, skills or hobbies. They are often ostracised, criticised and distrusted.
People can, and do recover, though. Below are some real life stories of people who have managed to turn their lives around, hopefully for good.
I started drinking when I was 14 with alcohol that was stolen from a shop. At school I sat an 11 plus and failed, and while all my friends went to the academy, I went to a junior secondary school. I later started serving an apprenticeship and began going to pubs at 16.
I soon became a daily drinker, going home drunk on many occasions, and this was to be my life for 40 years. I always managed to hold down a job and I worked for an American organisation, with 20 office staff and 200 floor staff reporting to me - and this was with a poor education behind me!
After that job, I bought a chip shop and bookmakers which only lasted for a year as I drank every day during that period.
I then decided to go to an AA meeting, and since that day I have not taken any alcohol. That was 18 years ago. For the last two years I have been involved with the Scottish Drugs Forum (SDF). This involves intensive training and I have carried out surveys, and studied Kilmarnock town centre and employability issues. I also worked in Lanarkshire looking at needle exchanges, doing surveys and being a mystery shopper.
Today we have planned more surveys on recovery to continue the good work already done and this is a legacy I’m very proud to pass on to new people engaging with SDF.
I was a heroin addict for 17 years but have now been drug free for three and a half years.
The drug abuse started when I met my partner. It wasn’t that I had a bad childhood - I had a great one - I just fell for the wrong person. I was young and didn’t know the seriousness and the consequences of my actions. Before I knew it I went from smoking heroin to a chaotic lifestyle and a serious habit of injecting.
Eventually I went on a methadone prescription for years until one day I woke up and thought to myself: “I’m better than this”. From that day on I started to reduce my dosage of methadone and took back control of my life.
I started Ayrshire College and completed a PDA Addiction Counselling course whilst coming off the remainder of my methadone. After coming off it completely, I started volunteering and completed another course at college, an NC in Working with Communities.
It was then that I started to realise that I would like a career in addiction work and I have now applied for the Addiction Worker Training Programme.
Growing up there was always drink around as both of my parents drank alcohol which caused dysfunction in the home. Although I have memories of some good times, I was a quiet and withdrawn child.
I was bullied at primary school, and later on I started to get into trouble with the teachers for misbehaving and getting involved in school ground fights. I got myself a job selling papers around the pubs at age 13 and had already tried alcohol before then. Into my teens I was quite shy with girls and meeting new people, and felt quite inadequate. In my late teens I had more experiences with alcohol, and by the time I was 17 I was going into pubs more regularly.
Drink helped bring me out of myself, gave me more confidence and made me feel different about me. I felt part of something being out with my friends at the weekends and felt more relaxed in the company of others with a drink in my hand. At times though, I drank too much and sometimes couldn’t even remember how I got home. My drinking increased even more at 18 when I started a new job and was drinking with workmates who were older than me.
At 19 I met someone and got married soon after that. During our relationship we had two children and I then reduced my drinking and spent less time in pubs. I got a new job, started taking driving lessons and we moved into our first flat together.
At 21, after a night out that went badly wrong and the death of my grandfather, I had what can only be described as a breakdown which took me down a path of prescribed medications and at one point I was sectioned, having completely lost touch with reality. I had to quit my job. As time went by I started to go back out drinking again to make me feel good and to forget past events. My drinking then progressed to a dangerous level, leading to binges and morning drinking which just became normal to me.
In my mid to late 20s I went to my first AA meeting which my dad had started to attend. At that time though, I did not and could not accept that I was an alcoholic and felt too young to attend meetings, believing I could control my own drinking and get my life back.
After a few more years the drink took over. My mental and physical health were affected, as were my family, children and friends. The drinking also affected any chance of me getting a job.
I felt very alone, full of fear and anger, and couldn’t understand what was happening to me or why I couldn’t control my drinking. I was extremely paranoid and suffered from regular anxiety.
Nine years ago I went back to AA when I was in a new relationship. I wanted desperately to stop drinking, and found that listening to others brought me back some hope. I went to AA meetings both at night and during the day, and although it was a slow process, I began to feel better although I felt very up and down without the crutch of alcohol. But I realised that alcohol only made things worse, never better, and with a lot of help and support from my family, my girlfriend at that time, and the fellowship of AA, I began my journey in sobriety.
I then started attending college doing an NC in Social Care, and did some volunteering before going on to be a Peer Researcher for the Scottish Drugs Forum. This has given me the confidence for a new career and some hope for the future. I have a new partner and family in my life and today I am trying to keep my life simple and take it one day at a time.