Breaking the Barriers – Stigma Associated with Drug Addiction
It may be easy for some people to think that drug and alcohol abuse only happens because of moral failings; however, this is far from the truth. Addiction has been clearly defined as a brain disorder that can affect nearly anyone – some people being at more risk than others as with most mental illnesses. According the SAMHSA’s yearly national survey, only around 11.2 percent of all the people that needed treatment for addiction found it in 2009. Many of these individuals may have avoided treatment because of the stigma associated with drug addiction.
Defining Stigma Attached to Addiction
Stigma in anything is when a group of people or society views another group or topic negatively. They reach this view not through facts but rather through assumptions, generalization and preconceptions – however false they may be. Stigma associated with drug addiction can cause addicts to be excluded and discriminated against, even though their condition is a mental disorder and not a choice.
For the addict going through addiction and all of the problems associated with it, dealing with the stigma attached to drug addiction can make them feel alone or feel less-than others because of how they are treated or perceived. An addict is a normal person with wants, loves and fears.
The Effects of Stigma Attached to Addiction
Being judged negatively based solely on substance use disorder can cause harm in several ways. Some of the ways that stigma associated with drug addiction can affect the addict is by damaging their self-esteem. It can also cause mental health issues such as social anxiety.
One of the worst ways that the stigma attached to addiction can affect a person is in treatment. It can make it harder for a person to reach out for help because they fear what people think of them. For example, a teenager may be thinking about getting help for an opioid addiction but fears the possible backlash they will receive from their parents and friends if they ask for help.
The Effects on Harm Reduction
The stigma associated with drug addiction can have an effect on the public’s perception of research-based strategies that can help the general public with the various problems created by substance abuse. Harm reduction are the programs such as needle exchange, safe-drug-consumption rooms where addicts can have access to clean needles and onsite help if needed, and substitution therapies such a methadone. Due to the public’s negative opinion about drug abusers, they may be against these types of proven harm reduction strategies. This can result in more problems being created in a community and no real solutions being formulated to help those in need.
How to Reduce Stigma of Recovering Addicts
Once a person has taken the major step of admitting their problem and seeking professional help for their addiction, there are things that you can do to help reduces the stigma of recovering addicts.
The things that you can do to help a person going through an addiction that doesn’t involve stigma about addiction include the following:
- Show kindness to the addict who is in a vulnerable situation.
- Provide them with compassionate and support.
- Listen to them without judgment.
- Avoid hurtful labels.
- Seeing them as an individual and not just an addict.
- Treat a recovering addict with respect and dignity.
- Use evidence-based facts not assumptions.
- Learn everything you can about the science of addiction.
- Speak up when you see unfair stigma.
If you or a loved one needs help with abuse and/or treatment, please call the WhiteSands Treatment at (877) 855-3470. Our addiction specialists can assess your recovery needs and help you get the addiction treatment that provides the best chance for your long-term recovery.