The Importance of Destigmatizing Addiction

For those who are struggling with a substance use disorder or addiction, the obstacles seem almost endless. One of the biggest challenges is the stigmas surrounding addiction. Substance use stigma is one of the main reasons people do not seek professional treatment. Not only does it interfere with a person’s willingness to receive effective treatment, but stigmas also prevent individuals from receiving the support they need and deserve during a difficult time.

What is a Stigma?

Stigma is discrimination against an identifiable group of people, place, or nation. Stigmas surrounding substance use disorders (SUD) may include inaccurate or unfounded information regarding the use, treatment, or labeling SUD as a choice rather than a condition.

Many stigmas rise from a lack of understanding or fear. Inaccurate or misleading media representations of addiction contribute to both of these factors. With a quick google search, individuals searching for information can be flooded with information regarding addiction that is false or misconstrued. This is why it is important to use websites from reliable and trustworthy sources.

A recent study on stigma identified three different types of stigma:

  • Public Stigma – involves the negative or discriminatory views that someone has about addiction
  • Self Stigma – refers to the negative outlook, including the internalized shame one might have about their struggles with SUD and addiction
  • Institutional Stigma – is more systemic. This can include policies of the government and private organizations that limit opportunities for individuals battling a SUD. For example, insurance companies that do not cover the costs of a treatment facility or other related health services interfering with the recovery process.

What Are The Stigmas Surrounding Addiction?

Most of the stigmas surrounding addiction stem from misinformation or information that is outdated, as well as stereotypes.

  • Language – The use of specific words such as addict or junkie can sometimes be emotionally harmful to those who are struggling with a SUD. For some individuals, even phrases such as “getting clean” can trigger a person to feel as though their addiction has made them “unclean.”
  • Assumptions – Society has always treated those with an addiction as a lower class. Some feel as though addiction is a sign of weakness or that anyone with a SUD could never have goals. The reality is no one ever grows up dreaming about fighting a battle with any substance. Those that struggle with addiction are just like anyone else. They have strengths and weaknesses, they are not less than anyone else and they shouldn’t be treated as though they are.
  • Not Here – Addiction has no discrimination. It can consume the poor and the rich. It has taken the lives of family members, friends, coworkers, neighbors. Those with addictions come from every type of community and background.
  • It’s a Choice – No one chooses addiction. They may have chosen to try whatever substance it may have been, but they did not choose addiction. People use drugs for many reasons: they want to feel good, to stop feeling bad, or to forget the pain they are enduring (both psychological and physical. Others choose to use drugs to help them perform better at work or school, or because they are curious and want to fit in. Drugs and alcohol can alter a person’s brain chemistry, directly impacting the pleasure center of the brain, making addiction a disease and not a choice.

How Can We Change Stigmatizing Behavior?

Destigmatizing substance use is everyone’s responsibility. For it to be successful, we have to all be willing to change our behaviors. When we combat addiction stigma together, we make it easier for those around us to receive the help they desperately need. We encourage kindness and compassion rather than judgment.

When we chat with those with a SUD, or their family members, make sure to use non-stigmatizing language that is factual and non-judgmental. This is also important when we are conversing with colleagues. The language that you choose to use regarding topics like addiction should always reflect an accurate, science-based understanding of SUD.

Use person-first language. When we use person-first language it helps to maintain the integrity of individuals as human beings, and no matter what, we are human beings before anything else. By making the effort to remove language that equates people to their condition, we help to remind them that they are not their addiction.

The National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMH) offers some excellent suggestions to help break stigmas:

  • Share Your Story
  • Educate Yourself and Others
  • Be Conscious of Language
  • Encourage Equality
  • Show Compassion
  • Normalize Treatment
  • Empower Each Other

Stigma, prejudice, and discrimination against individuals with addiction can be unintentional, as well as intentional. Regardless, it can be detrimental to someone you love that struggles with addiction or who is hesitant to seek treatment. People with substance use disorder (SUD) are already marginalized and discriminated against, mostly due to fear, lack of education, and outdated stereotypes. It is our job to continue to work hard to break stigmas across the board. When we continue to fuel stigmas we jeopardize those battling with SUD to receive the professional treatment they need and deserve. Learn how to reshape the way you speak about addiction and recovery – you never know what others around you are secretly battling. At Achieve Concierge we have a dynamic team of clinicians who strive to educate those about addiction, recovery, and mental health. Do not wait any longer, reach out to Achieve Concierge today at (619) 393-5871.

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