Overcoming Addiction Stigma

Part of the complete guide to understanding addiction

Table of Contents
  1. Stigma and Addiction
  2. The Evolution of Addiction Related Stigma
  3. Where does Addiction Stigma come from?
  4. How Addiction Stigma Feels
  5. How does Addiction Stigma Affect Families?
  6. Examples of Stigma Attached to Addiction and Mental Health
  7. How much money is spent on Addiction Advocacy and Mental Health
  8. How We Can Reduce the Stigma of Addiction

Stigma and Addiction

When someone is struggling with addiction, one of the hardest things for them to handle is some of the stigma that comes with tier addiction. When they feel disgraced and bad about the addiction, the addict may worry that they are worthless and can’t get better. This can demotivate them and makes it harder for them to seek out the addiction treatment that they need.

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The Evolution of Addiction Related Stigma

Those who are addicted to a substance or alcohol will find that one of the major barriers to overcome addiction and overdose is known as stigma. Originally a Greek and Latin word, stigma means tattoo, burn, or another mark that is inflicted on someone to show their disgrace.

Our modern world has a slightly different meaning for the word of stigma. Today, stigma is going to be more of discrimination, stereotyping, or labeling. In addiction, it means that others are going to use judgmental or disparaging terms to refer back to the addiction, people who have a substance use disorder, or to some of the treatments of the disease.

When people feel the stigma of their addiction, it is hard for them to get better. They feel like a disgrace for falling victim to the addiction. They worry that they will not be able to get better and that they are not even worthy for someone to care for them because they are hopeless for the addiction. This can cause the individual to give up any hope of even trying to get better, and can make the addiction worse than before.

What can make this even harder is that even the best option for recovering from substance abuse and dependence, drug rehab, can be stigmatized. If the addicted person feels disgraced for seeking out help for their addiction, they will refuse some of the help that they need. They may decide that it is not worth it, that they are better off having the addiction rather than seeking treatment, and they will not get better. Drug treatment and detox centers are the best places to begin a recovery journey that will last. There, people can safely detox from their drug of choice, and enter inpatient rehab. But if the person is affected by the stigmatization of addiction and addiction treatment, he or she wont make that crucial step forward.

Where Does Addiction Stigma Come From?

There has been some research done to look at where stigma comes from and why it is so prevalent in our society. This research shows that stigma can be persistent and pervasive and rooted in the debunked idea that addiction is more of a personal choice. The idea is that the addict is choosing to keep using the substance, that they do not have the will power to stop or they are morally failing to stop using it.

Addiction is much harder than that. If it were just to the willpower of the individual, far fewer people would deal with a long-term addiction. Without the right support and understanding of their disease, it is nearly impossible to get better. A good drug detox and treatment center believe in that concept deeply and design their addiction treatment programming around it.

When choosing a drug inpatient or outpatient center near you , it is vital to investigate the staff that will be providing care. Make sure that they don’t look down on their clients, understand their struggles and the root of the problem, If they are adding to the client’s feeling of deficiency, they are just adding to the damage and making addiction recovery less likely.

How Addiction Stigma Feels

Stigma of addiction is hard to overcome. Those struggling feel like they should be strong enough to fight the addiction, but they can’t do it. They feel like something is wrong with them, that they are a bad person or that they did something wrong, and that they deserve the difficult hand they have been dealt. Being constantly judged for behavior out of a person’s control as it currently stands is a very lonely and painful feeling. Drug rehab needs to empower and build in place of creating guilt and destruction.

If exposed to negativity consistently, the danger of death and drug overdose only grows.

How Does Addiction Stigma Affect Families?

Addiction stigma does not only affect the drug user. It will cause consequences to the family, as well. . Many families may feel like they are being judged because one of their own is dealing with an addiction, like they were morally wrong and somehow responsible for the addiction issue of their loved ones. Others in the community may choose to judge the whole family for the addiction too.

Families may have a choice to make. They can choose to try and support their loved one with an addiction, but this will bring more of the stigma on them and make them look like they are doing something wrong too. This can be hard for many individuals, even those with the best intentions. Or they can try to separate themselves in the hopes of avoiding some of the stigma. This can leave the person who needs them most without their most important source of support. Their is nothing worse for someone who needs to get better from an addiction.

Examples of Stigma Attached to Addiction and Mental Health

Stigma attached to addiction and mental health can show up in a number of different forms. It can affect almost all aspects of the life of the person with a mental health disorder or addiction. Some of the examples of this stigma attached to addiction and mental health include:

  1. They may face discrimination in a social or a professional setting, making it hard to meet others or even advance in their careers.
  2. Lack of understanding from members of their family, colleagues, and friends
  3. Bullying
  4. Poor self-esteem and confidence due to the factors above
  5. Reluctance to get some of the mental health or addiction treatment that they need to help them get better.

Because the stigma is so strong against the illness or the addiction, the patient may be wary of seeking out medical attention for the issue, which can make it a whole lot worse.

How Much Money is Spent on Addiction Advocacy and Stigma?

There is not a lot of money spent on addiction advocacy or stigma at this time. While avoiding the stigma could be one of the best ways to help and get them into recovery, freeing up more money for other things, this is not where money to stop drugs and drug use is going.

For example, it is estimated that for every dollar the government could spend on recovery services, they could free up $7 in government spending in the budget. This is huge. While recovery services may not solve all of the problems with addiction, making recovery services more open and available to those with an addiction could reduce the stigma, and encourage a person struggling to enter a inpatient or outpatient program.

How We Can Reduce the Stigma of Addiction

There are different steps that we can take to provide help to those who struggle with an addiction while reducing the amount of stigma that is found around addiction. Some of the steps that individuals and groups can do to help include:

  1. Offer support that is compassionate, rather than judgmental.
  2. Displaying kindness to those who are in a vulnerable situation
  3. Listening to those who have an addiction without the judgment.
  4. Seeing the person fighting addiction as a unique person, rather than just focusing on the drugs they use.
  5. Doing some research to understand how drug dependency works and how you can help.
  6. Avoiding some of the common labels that can be hurtful.
  7. Replacing some of the negative attitudes that you have with facts based on evidence.
  8. Speaking up any time that you see that an individual is mistreated for their drug use.

With some compassion and some small steps along the way, it is possible to break the stigma of addiction. It all starts with one person at a time, one person who realizes the harm that stigma causes. When an individual is feeling helpless, your smile can make a difference. We all have a a part of breaking the cycle of stigma related to addiction, Lets start seeing people, and not their struggles.

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Brooke Abner,

Motivational Coach