Although the conversation surrounding addiction has changed in recent years, there is still a significant misconception about the causes of its development and the morals of the person who uses. Unfortunately, despite the fact that countless people from all walks of life struggle with addiction, there are stigmas and negative attitudes attached to the topic. Rather than acknowledging that addiction can happen to anyone, stigmas regarding substance abuse tend to paint broad, incorrect, negative portrayals of people that can cause feelings of shame or guilt and make it difficult for them to reach out and ask for help.

How Stigmas Surrounding Addiction Impact Treatment

Many people who struggle with addiction have been on the receiving end of a stigma. Experiencing this type of treatment can impact a person’s willingness to seek help because of fears regarding how they will be perceived or treated. Some of the most common stigmas people face include:

  • If you abuse drugs or alcohol, you are a bad person.
  • You just need willpower and good morals to stop using.
  • You are your addiction and nothing else.
  • Those with addiction do not feel remorse for their choices.

Stigmas like these can make it difficult to ask for help. A person with an addiction may experience poor self-esteem, decreased self-worth, and struggle with mental health issues. In addition, fear of how they may be treated or perceived can make it difficult to open up and admit there is a problem, causing them to struggle in silence. This can worsen their overall wellbeing and discourage them from accessing treatment.

Although all people who use drugs face some level of discrimination due to stigmas, there are even stigmas among those who use drugs. Someone who uses legalized drugs, such as alcohol, may look down on others who use illegal drugs. Stigmas also exist between those who use “soft” drugs, like marijuana, and those who use “hard” drugs, like heroin. Even the method of use can be stigmatized, such as viewing those who inhale drugs differently from those who inject.

Stigma can also impact the type of resources available to those in need. Programs designed to provide services such as needle-exchanging and supervised injection centers are highly polarizing topics. Because the facilities provide those with an addiction resources related to substance abuse, public perception quickly shifts to that of outrage and questioning. It can make it difficult for people to discuss the purpose of these facilities which is not to encourage substance abuse, but rather, to reduce the risk of threats to public health and rates of overdose.

Programs like those mentioned are practicing in several countries around the world and aim to help people access resources, transition more easily into treatment, and reduce the spread of transmittable diseases. Ideological beliefs and stigmas surrounding substance abuse make it difficult to entertain the idea of establishing controlled facilities. Instead of considering the potential to increase public safety while reducing the number of overdose deaths, many people fear that these facilities will increase rates of substance abuse and crime. These beliefs are not supported by any evidence or experiences with currently-operating facilities.

Reducing Stigmas SUrrounding Addiction

Stigmas can exist anywhere and be held by anyone, which can make it difficult to know where to turn for help. In order to help reduce the impact of stigmas and encourage people to ask for help, it is important to provide education that models nonjudgmental behavior. Instead, encouraging empathetic behavior can help change perceptions about those who struggle with addiction.

Some of the best ways to reduce the impact of stigmas include:

  1. Get the facts: Understanding how substance abuse and addiction work can help you better understand the experiences of those in need of help. Not everyone who uses drugs develops an addiction, but developing an addiction does not mean that person is weak-willed or immoral. Additionally, drugs and alcohol can have different effects on different people, meaning that sometimes, the most dangerous drugs are not what you would expect.
  2. Consider your language: The way you talk about addiction can reinforce stigmas. Using terms like “junkie” or “addict” and other derogatory terms can make a person feel dehumanized and as if they are nothing more than their addiction. Even using phrases like “getting clean” conveys the message that those who use drugs are “dirty” and it carries a negative connotation. People are more than the addiction they have and changing the language you use when discussing it can help change the way a person is perceived by others.
  3. Be empathetic: It is easy to hold grudges and feel resentment when it comes to addiction. Addiction can cause a person to engage in behaviors they may not otherwise which can create tension and problems in relationships. While you do not have to excuse the behaviors of someone with an addiction, you can empathize with the situation and respond to them with kindness, especially during especially vulnerable times.

Substance abuse can be hard to understand for those who have never had an addiction, which can make it easy for stigmas to flourish. The criminalization of addiction and the experience of relapse can make it seem to some that addiction is a choice and those who continue to use in spite of the legal consequences or repercussions to their health are choosing addiction over sobriety because of a character flaw. Education about the nature of addiction and correcting misconceptions about substance abuse can help reduce these stigmas and make it easier to access resources without fear of judgement.

Stigmas can perpetuate false stereotypes and lead to feelings of isolation and shame. While changing stigmas on a large scale can be time-consuming and difficult, making changes individually and within families or communities can help change the conversation and empower those in need of help.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, we are here to help. Give us a call at 888.855.6877 or send us a message below and one of our admissions counselors will do their best to get you the help you need.

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