01 Jul Admitting Addiction Is Not a Weakness
It’s easy to be in denial about your addiction or alcoholism if you know how to hide it with exercise, professionalism, and a good work ethic. You have the public face when interacting with other professionals in your industry, and then you have the other face when you look in the mirror, not quite believing whom you’ve become. You have been able to fool everyone else but yourself. You’re at the height of your career, and everything looks great on the surface. You receive numerous accolades for your accomplishments. Little do people know how hard you have to work to “look normal,” so that no one will suspect you have a drinking problem. Only your loved ones at home may notice the glass of wine at seven in the morning on the kitchen table. You may even fool your therapist if you go in for addiction treatment for the first time. You don’t look like the typical alcoholic (then again, what does a “typical alcoholic” look like?) but you know you can’t stop drinking. Would more people seek treatment for drug and alcohol abuse if there wasn’t such a tremendous stigma attached to addiction? Admitting addiction with drug and alcohol use is to liken yourself to someone who is homeless, irresponsible, untrustworthy, and immoral. At least that’s what the negative stereotype seems to be, based on public stigmatization attached to addiction. Individuals who struggle with substance abuse addiction view themselves as failing to live up to their own standards. The realization of this perceived shortcoming leads to a set of negative shame-based attitudes toward oneself (1) and the public stigmatization doesn’t help anyone take a step closer to addiction treatment. Coming into the light about your addiction might mean that people will look at you differently; if your boss found out what you do behind closed doors, you might lose your job and risk losing your reputation among esteemed colleagues and professionals. Most people living with an active addiction do not want to face social ostracization with its perceived implications, so they stay quiet in their suffering.
Factors That Influence Stigma Associated With Admitting Addiction
Factors that influence public perceptions about admitting addiction are rooted in knowledge about substance use disorders, one’s personal experience or interaction with individuals living with an active addiction, and media portrayal of people with substance abuse addiction, according to researchers.(2)
• Blame. Individuals with a medical condition or mental illness such as depression attribute their condition to biological causes, whereas individuals with substance use disorders are blamed for their condition because of their “choice.” This view of attribution to the user’s illness has affected public funding of drug and alcohol treatment and services.
• Stereotypes of unpredictability and danger. A national survey reveals that one in four Americans believe that children and teens afflicted with depression were more likely to be violent, and individuals with substance use disorders were believed to be more violent and dangerous than those with mental illness. Views of such stereotypes have influenced public policy on restricting the rights of individuals with behavioral disorders.
• Knowledge about mental illness and substance use disorders. Knowledge can reduce stigma, but reframing addiction as a brain disease has had unintended consequences. Despite evidence that individuals with substance use disorders are more likely to adhere to treatment than those with chronic diseases such as diabetes, society still views users as “weak-willed,” and this misperception continues to increase despite public campaign efforts to reduce stigma. Negative media portrayals of characters with untreated substance use disorders, rather than positive media portrayals of those on the path to recovery, are believed to be a factor in this continued stigmatization.
• Relationships that affect understanding and opinions of substance abuse. Direct contact with individuals who have an active addiction may reduce or increase stigmatizing beliefs, depending on one’s experience with these individuals. For example, health professionals who have had more contact with substance users are likely to have negative attitudes, which may be affected by the patient’s severity of symptoms and the quality of training received by the health care practitioner. People with family members with alcohol use disorder (AUD) were less likely to hold a negative attitude than those who don’t have relatives diagnosed with AUD.
• Portrayals of people in television, movies and other forms of media. A study on the impact of mainstream publications from 1998 to 2008 revealed that public opinion about postpartum depression tended to mirror the negative ideas portrayed by the media. A common stereotypical portrayal is that of an addict who has to hit rock bottom before getting better, or those who sink into the depths of addiction and losing all hope that one will ever be able to work again. Not everyone has to hit rock bottom before seeking addiction treatment, and many people who recover from drug and alcohol addiction are able to have even better quality lives than they did prior to treatment, because they will have gained essential tools to help them live healthier lifestyles.
• Race, ethnicity and culture. Research findings about racial, ethnic and cultural beliefs related to stigma are limited. Quality of care is affected by the practitioners’ understanding (or lack thereof) about the patient’s cultural ideas about treatment, and therefore cultural competency and awareness are extremely important among providers of substance abuse treatment.
You Are Not Your Addiction
Substance abuse addiction turns you into someone that you can’t recognize. Individuals who have an active addiction are prone to cheat, lie, hide information, and succumb to criminal activities that jeopardize their relationships with loved ones and colleagues, resulting in damaged relationships and job loss – all because of a psychological craving for their drug of choice. Because of the apparent amoral behaviors associated with addiction, most people do not separate the addiction from the individual; instead they associate the two and deem these individuals as social deviants lacking in will-power and morals.
At New Method Wellness, a premier dual diagnosis addiction treatment center in San Juan Capistrano, CA, individuals rediscover themselves apart from their substance abuse addiction when they decide to seek recovery and a second chance at life. Here you will find a distinguished multidisciplinary team of compassionate clinicians and awesome support from substance abuse counselors and peers who will be there for you every step of your journey. Admitting addiction is not a sign of weakness but of courage, because it takes a tremendous amount of courage to see beyond the stigma and still move forward anyway.
Are you or a loved one seeking help for addiction? Call 866.951.1824 today!
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1. Matthews, S., Dwyer, R., & Snoek, A. (2017). Stigma and Self-Stigma in Addiction. Journal of bioethical inquiry, 14(2), 275-2862. Committee on the Science of Changing Behavioral Health Social Norms; Board on Behavioral, Cognitive, and Sensory Sciences; Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education; National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Ending Discrimination Against People with Mental and Substance Use Disorders: The Evidence for Stigma Change. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2016 Aug 3. 2, Understanding Stigma of Mental and Substance Use Disorders. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/