16 Mar Breaking the Stigma of Addiction
What is a stigma? The dictionary definition of a stigma is a mark of disgrace. That’s what the stigma of addiction is in society today. People often view addiction as a shameful thing that shouldn’t be talked about. It’s seen as a lack of self-control and willpower. A personal failing. Addiction is viewed as a weakness that a person couldn’t overcome. Even when the person becomes sober, the addiction stigma might haunt them for years.
The main reason for addiction stigma is the perception that addiction is a choice and primarily caused by a lack of willpower. Another reason is the behavioral symptoms of addiction. Impaired judgment, risky behavior and embarrassing consequences like the loss of a job, going to jail, or a broken marriage cause shame and guilt to the person who experienced it as well as the people around them. Even when they become sober, these consequences may continue to stick with them.
It’s no wonder that the private shame of addiction continues to afflict those who have gone through it. Unfortunately, the stigma of addiction can cause people to hide their addiction and avoid getting help.
How Addiction Stigma Often Prevents People From Seeking Help
The most damaging aspect of the stigma of addiction is how it creates obstacles for people to get help. Addiction prevention is also difficult when addiction isn’t properly discussed due to stigma. The irony of this stigma is that addiction can be prevented and treated if honest discussion and recognition take place. Instead, alcohol and drug addiction are often treated as private matters among families. Even when addiction symptoms are extremely obvious, people around the addicted person may enable or deny that an addiction is present. They often avoid seeking help due to not wanting to admit the problem. This is partly why only one in 12 Americans with a substance abuse disorder get professional treatment for addiction.
The stigma of addiction doesn’t just exist at the family level. It also exists on society and community levels. It keeps honest discussions about addiction from taking place, which in turn reduces opportunities for treatment, diagnosis and education. Drug addiction is a serious health problem just like other chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. However, compared to these other chronic conditions, addiction isn’t as readily acknowledged.
Alcohol and Drug Addiction As Health Problems
The stigma of addiction causes it to be looked at as a moral or criminal issue rather than a health issue. This is particularly egregious when you realize that addiction is one of the biggest health problems in America. Various public policies related to education, insurance, housing and employment still display discrimination against people who have struggled with addiction, even if those people are in long-term recovery. Despite scientific advancement in understanding drug addiction as a disease, the stigma of addiction still exists among medical professionals.
The Stigma of Addiction: A History
The stigma of drug addiction has a long history. In the earliest part of the 20th century, various drugs like morphine, cocaine and opium were used to treat general health conditions like menstrual cramps and headaches. However, in 1914, the Harrison Act was used to tax opium and cocaine imports. It made people question the legality of prescribing medicine containing opium or cocaine. Finally, a 1919 Supreme Court ruling made it illegal for doctors to dispense narcotics to treat addiction. This pushed drug addiction into hiding and removed the idea of addiction as a health disorder from mainstream perception.
It’s important to understand the history of the stigma of addiction because it shows the point where substance use became viewed as illicit behavior. Language to describe addiction became more disdainful and negative. As more years passed, drug addiction became associated strongly with crime and violence. The media has increased this perception, which reinforces the subconscious bias that people have.
Pejorative language remains common in describing people with addiction. Terms like addict and user are normal in describing someone with an addiction. These labels promote shame and force people to take on a persona that is only defined by one characteristic.
How To Break The Stigma Of Addiction
If you know someone with an addiction or even if you don’t, it’s important for everyone to help break the stigma of addiction. By erasing the stigma, millions of people will find the courage to get treatment for drug addiction without shame. How can you help break the stigma in your own community? Start by becoming an expert. Seek out knowledge and reliable sources on the disease of addiction. Find out more about treatment and recovery of addiction. Get involved with community coalitions and public health in your area.
Spread the message about addiction as a health problem via social media. Share stories and content that helps break the stigma. You can use social media to engage with positive messages about addiction recovery and treatment. You can also use it to correct and educate.
Advocate and Share Your Story
If you have a personal story about addiction, whether it’s for yourself or a loved one, you can help educate others by sharing that story. One of the hardest things for people with addiction is feeling like they are alone in their struggles. Knowing others who have successfully recovered from addiction is extremely important for those still struggling.
Another important factor in reducing addiction stigma is to change the language. Avoid using pejorative language like addict or user to describe someone with a substance use disorder. Using medically-accurate language to refer to substance use disorders is essential to reinforcing the truth of substance use disorders as a chronic health condition. Terms like “hitting rock bottom” and “co-dependency” can also be harmful as they encourage families and friends of addicted people to take hardline and negative approaches. Support, consistency and encouragement are integral for long-term recovery and behavior change.
Treatment For Substance Use Disorders
New Method Wellness is an addiction treatment center committed to reducing the stigma of substance use disorders. Our strategy is to encourage and support those who are in recovery. It’s important to show people that recovery from substance use disorders is possible. It’s also important for them to know that a substance use disorder can be managed successfully in the long term, just like any other chronic health condition.
At New Method Wellness, we are proactive in creating venues to share recovery messages. We also promote spaces where recovery messages can serve as a beacon of light to other people still struggling. We also educate other professionals in the health care industry so that everyone is equipped with the education to deal compassionately with addiction.
If you or a loved one are struggling with a substance use disorder, reach out to New Method Wellness today for treatment options. We offer a wide range of evidence-based and holistic treatment methods as well as recovery and after-care programs.