Alcohol and drug addiction carries with it a negative connotation – One that’s powerful and debilitating enough to not only affect the victim, but also his or her loved ones and the community he or she belongs in.
The stigma around addiction can prevent the victim from seeking help they need. But the good news is, this can still be fixed, or at the very least, lessened with awareness.
What is addiction stigma?
Stigma is defined as a strong negative feelings, beliefs or disapproval society has for a person or a thing. In the case of addiction, it’s the negative beliefs and stereotypes we have about addicts, or people struggling with substance abuse.
Addicts, too, feel guilt and shame over their condition. As a result, those who are suffering from substance abuse or addiction to drugs and alcohol also suffer from low self esteem and poor coping mechanisms that will hamper their chances of recovery even further.
So what are the common misconceptions about addiction that result in stigmatization? Here are a couple:
- Addiction is a moral issue – Although, initially, a person will voluntarily put drugs in his or her system, what happens after that is already a result of the chemical reaction in the brain. This results in uncontrollable craving and over time, the brain already adapts to needing the drug.
- Addiction is a choice – Like any other disease, nobody wanted to get addicted. But slurs like stoner, meth head, junkie and habit make addiction sound like a lifestyle one chooses and not a chronic disease.
The danger of using negative stigmatized language when defining addiction can make it hard for addicts to have access to the help they need because of shame, guilt, or discrimination.
- Only deadbeats get addicted– We often get the idea that addicts are homeless people drinking off from a bottle wrapped in a paper bag, or hanging out in a dark alley.
But addiction does not discriminate. There are people with great careers and families who hide their addictions well. They seem to live normal and happy lives, but if family and friends look closely, they will see subtle signs of addiction.
- Addiction is all about willpower (or the lack of it) – This misconception is not only wrong. It’s also dangerous for a person suffering from addiction. For starters, withdrawal symptoms can be fatal, especially if the person has been using them too much for too long.
- Prescription medication is not as bad as street drugs – Abuse of prescription medication is just as bad as, let’s say, crystal meth or cocaine.
A 2015 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) study found that 18.9 million Americans aged 12 and older have misused prescription drugs in the past year. Often, prescription medication becomes a gateway drug to more dangerous substances.
Impact of addiction stigma
According to Erving Goffman in his book titled “Stigma: Notes on the Management of a spoiled identity”, there is no physical or psychiatric condition more associated with social disapproval and discrimination than substance dependence. And the stigma can have such an impact on the victim as well as his or her community.
Impact on the addict
Addiction stigma can be a big barrier for addicts to get the professional help they need. Self-stigmatization can bring about feelings of guilt and shame, which discourages the addict to seek professional help.
Not getting the help they need will lead to other problems, such as the eventual deterioration of their physical and mental health.
Impact on the family
The families of addicts also bear the brunt of addiction stigmatization. Research depicts that an addict’s family is often blamed as the root of the problem, or the reason why the addict is not recovering.
Hence, they downplay the problem to prevent getting stigmatized.
Parents take the biggest blow of the stigma. Often, they question their parenting and might find themselves blaming the addiction on their failure as parents. This, too, leads either enablement or refusal to acknowledge their adult child’s condition and need for help.
Impact on the community
The stigma is also prevalent within healthcare. Sadly, according to studies, some healthcare providers aren’t comfortable with working with people suffering from substance abuse. Majority of nurses have negative views on people who use drugs.
When healthcare providers subscribe to these prejudices against people with substance abuse, this will discourage anyone from seeking help. When the drug problem isn’t addressed at this level, it will remain a problem that will continue to plague your community.
How you can help reduce stigma around addiction
Addiction stigma stems from the lack of education and understanding. While it will take some time before the paradigm on addiction will change, there are ways you can do to spread awareness and reduce the stigma around addiction:
- Educate yourself. Wade through and filter out the wrong information you get from people about addiction. Only seek information from legitimate sources.
- Pass it on. Pass on what you have learned to other people and challenge the myths and stereotypes. Spark a discussion to promote a discussion.
- Examine yourself. Be self aware. Be conscious of your attitude and the words you choose when you talk about addiction. Remember that words have the power to affect attitudes and perspectives.
- Show support. Treat everyone with dignity and respect. Encourage and support.
- See past the addiction. People suffering from substance abuse were once like you: they had dreams and goals and would never have thought that they’d come to this. See them for who they are and don’t focus on their addiction as this will encourage judgement.
- Listen. The isolation they feel can be overwhelming, and it’s important that they have someone to share their sentiments to without judgement. Be that person.
- Let them know that there’s hope. Encourage them to seek help.
Restore Health and Wellness is one of the best places to start your recovery journey. Our 65-bed facility offers residential therapeutic services in a comfortable drug and alcohol-free environment with breathtaking views and plush amenities.
To know which of our programs can help you achieve your recovery goals, speak with one of our treatment specialists. Visit our addiction treatment center in Simi Valley, CA at 6918 Owensmouth Ave Canoga Park, CA 91303 24/7 Admissions (818) 722-9019 On-Site Contact (818) 806-3914.