The Stigma of Addiction

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A significant challenge for those who suffer from drug and alcohol addiction is facing and overcoming the stigma attached to it. Stigmas are inflicted by friends, family, society, communities, and can create significant hurt and discrimination. Addiction is a disease that is treatable by enlisting the help of a rehab program. Addiction treatment programs may include medication, behavioral therapy, skill development, fitness regimens, or alternative therapy.

Still, many people think that drug addiction is a personality flaw or a weakness. They may believe that an alcohol abuser can’t handle their liquor. Maybe they assume that marijuana users should quit. And they’ll likely think methamphetamine users should smash their pipe walk away. Sadly, overcoming addiction is not that simple. There are many circumstances as to why someone abuses substances despite the negative consequences that come with it.

Defining Stigma

Stigma is a negative belief from society regarding a topic or group of people. It causes a significant amount of exclusion and discrimination, contributing to the abuse of human rights. People who experience stigma feel as if they are less than because of their perceived health state.

Stigma is seldomly based on facts but instead on opinions, biases, and generalizations. Therefore, its negative influence can be reduced through education. Stigma causes rejection, prejudice, avoidance, and discrimination against those who have a socially unpopular trait or are involved in self-harming behaviors, like substance abuse.

Friends, family, and the general public can carry negative feelings about people suffering from substance addiction. They may hurl derogatory terms at them like “alcoholic,” “junkie,” or “crackhead.” These thoughts, feelings, and names can create and immortalize stigma.

How Prevalent is the Stigma of Addiction?

Nearly everyone has either felt stigmatized or has stigmatized someone else at some point throughout their life. Studies have shown that the general public was more inclined to have a negative attitude towards those suffering from substance addiction than those who have a mental illness. Furthermore, researchers found that society doesn’t usually support housing, insurance, and employment policies beneficial for people who suffer from drug or alcohol addiction.

Shame is a feeling that commonly accompanies substance dependence. This is due to society’s stigmatization of substance abusers, which in turn makes the user believe and accept the negative stigma of addiction as truth in their mind. Users will feel a sense of shame when they encounter name-calling and the stigma of addiction, because of their disease that both physically and psychologically take ahold of them.

It is factual that the moment people meet, they judge and evaluate each other’s behavior and find common ground categories. This “getting to know each other” goes on until the subject has exhibited enough to fill out their identity. This process does become contaminated, though when people start labeling and referring to others with negative stereotypes.

Risks of Addiction Stereotypes

Addiction stigmas are dangerous for various reasons because:

  • Many people who suffer from addiction don’t fit the profile, so they continue to believe there isn’t a problem.
  • Family and friends don’t pressure them to get help because they don’t fit the profile.
  • The user is embarrassed to admit they have an addiction because of the negative stigma.
  • Friends and family might also be concerned about the stigma of addiction and help in concealing it.
  • Ordinarily, the public may view substance abusers as bad people and feel a lack of sympathy towards their suffering.
  • Those who encounter the stigma of their addiction are less likely to enlist the help of treatment.
  • Perceived stigma in hospitals and doctors’ offices can also discourage users from seeking treatment.

Studies conducted by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health stated that the general public is more prone to have negative feelings towards those dealing with substance addiction than those who experience mental illness.

Substance use disorders are usually treated as a criminal and moral issue rather than a health concern. This is especially true regarding illegal substances. Using drugs like heroin or cocaine is a crime and is deemed by society as a morally harmful choice.

Reasons like this are why those who suffer from substance use disorders don’t enlist the help of treatment. A study from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health discovered that 21.5 million U.S citizens ages 12 and older had a substance use disorder within the past year. But, only 2.5 million received the treatment they require

Common Misconceptions Regarding Addiction

Stigmas of alcohol addiction:

  • Drinks cheap alcohol
  • Consumes alcohol daily
  • Drinks the moment they wake up
  • Always changing jobs
  • Causes domestic violence
  • Becomes physically or verbally aggressive when drunk
  • Prefers drinking alone
  • Likely to be alienated from family
  • Frequently blacking out
  • Has poor hygiene
  • Probably homeless
  • Is an unfit parent
  • Older than 40 years old

Stigmas of drug addiction:

  • No life goals
  • Poor hygiene
  • Younger than 40 years old
  • Steals money from loved ones
  • Too incompetent to hold a job
  • Inability to maintain a relationship
  • Frequently in trouble with the police
  • Spends the majority of time in bad neighborhoods
  • Reside in an abandoned building with other individuals suffering from addiction

Facts About Substance Abusers

There are addiction stigmas surrounding users, but there are facts about them too. Listed are some facts about substance abusers which include:

  • Some factors come into play regarding substance abuse like gender, age, a social, and economic status that influence which substances a person will use. Addiction could happen to anyone, at any time, for any reason, and at any point throughout life. Research has confirmed that the number and type of adverse childhood experiences can disrupt someone’s development later. People who struggle with anxiety and depression are at a higher risk of becoming substance users at some point.
  • The incapability to stop using drugs and alcohol that cause negative behavior is due to the immediate and long-term changes that happen in the brain caused by the substance used. Mood altering substances like marijuana, cocaine, alcohol, and opioids all affect the chemical levels in the brain known as dopamine. When a user starts abusing substances, the reward system in mind keeps simulating more and more of that chemical for extended periods, leaving them to crave that effect despite any possible consequences.

More Information About Addiction

  • Overcoming substance addiction will not be as simple as just quitting substance use. A majority of people believe that all the problems created by substance use disorders will disappear once you stop using them. But it is at this time the cravings will become more intense. Those who use should never be encouraged to quit suddenly without medical supervision.
  • Addiction recovery is an ongoing process. There are multiple forms of recovery programs like residential addiction treatment, intensive outpatient treatment, 12- step meetings, and more it is crucial to understand that a relapse may be part of the long-term substance addiction recovery process.
  • Substance addiction will not be the same for everybody. There are cognitive, behavioral, and psychological symptoms that impact the user’s habit. Some users can function at a high-level and might not even believe they have an addiction. For others, the impact is more disastrous and result in loss of employment, relationships, and experiencing financial instability.

Reasons Not to Refer to Someone as an Addict

Some reasons not to refer to someone as an addict include:

  • It causes shame and stigma. Labels that are stigmatizing prevent people from reaching out for help because of the shame. But analysis has shown that the nature and number of adverse childhood experiences could harm people later on.
  • Shame leads to negative self-esteem. When someone suffering from addiction is shamed with names and labels, they feel wrong about themselves and stop doing things they have planned, like achieving goals.
  • People perceive themselves as the problem. When somebody is labeled a “drug addict” or alcoholic, they believe they are seen as the problem, not as somebody struggling with an uncontrollable disease.
  • It produces helplessness and causes negative self-talk. Weakness keeps individuals engaged in drug or alcohol use to numb they’re feeling. On the other hand, if that person leaves, there’s someone with an addiction, they will also see themselves as someone without an addiction.
  • It disregards all circumstances. We view our actions as being inspired by events. We see other’s behavior as being inspired by their personality. By labeling someone an addict, you neglect their conditions and criticize their actions entirely on their nature.
  • If you know or come in contact with someone suffering from addiction, do not use the added label. Try to view them utilizing the person’s first approach. If you suffer from addiction, you should try to see yourself as a person first, with a substance use disorder. From there, seek out a treatment program that a shame-free and judgment-free.

Fighting Back Against Stigma

People have stated they observed stigma from healthcare providers, loved ones, and the public. Regardless of the situation, no one wants to be judged or depreciated. To encourage somebody to reach out for help and receive addiction treatment, it is crucial to reduce the stigma of addiction surrounding their situation. Educational programs and practicing non-stigmatizing behavior can help individuals in contributing nonjudgmental, empathic support.

Effective methods to help reduce the stigma of addiction include:

  • Offering support
  • Listening while being judgmental
  • Evading hurtful names and labels
  • Sharing your own stigma stories
  • Demonstrating kindness to vulnerable people
  • Learning about substance addiction and how it works
  • Substituting negative emotions with evidence-based facts
  • Seeing someone for who they are, not their substance use
  • Treating people with substance addiction with honor and respect
  • Speaking up when someones being mistreated due to their drug use

Break Away From the Stereotype

There is a place where you can overcome the stigma of drug addiction while helping you quit all substance use for good. Maybe you have a loved one or family member that could benefit from the journey of getting sober and getting back to living a happy, healthy lifestyle.

Free By The Sea is a drug and alcohol recovery center that offers detox, residential treatment, intensive outpatient treatment, dual diagnosis treatment, and cognitive behavioral therapy.

Contact us today and allow our team to get you the answers you seek and the help you deserve.