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Why Combating Stigma Is Part of the Fight Against Addiction

For years, society has stigmatized addiction. No matter who experiences a substance use disorder, shame is usually part of addiction’s debilitating effects. This can contribute to the burden of a substance use disorder.

A Lack of Understanding Contributes to Stigma

The truth is, many people do not fully understand addiction. They believe that it is just a bad choice that people continue to make and do not understand why they just cannot say no. They are not aware that addiction is a disease that can negatively affect certain parts of the brain that are in charge of decision-making.

At times, those dealing with addiction not only have to fight the urge to use their drug of choice and the physical effects of quitting, but they also have to fight the stigma attached to their addiction.

Today, substance use disorders and mental health issues have become a more talked about topic of conversation. Yet many Americans still do not treat people who experience mental health issues in the same way that they treat those grappling with other physical diseases, like cancer. It is still difficult for some to accept that addiction is a disease that requires medical intervention.

Yet social inclusion and support are key components to a successful recovery, while isolation and discrimination as a result of stigma can increase the risk of relapse and can hinder a person’s recovery from addiction. Lack of understanding about substance use can be a major hindrance to treatment for those suffering from addiction.

Stigma appears to be one of the main reasons people who experience a substance use disorder avoid treatment. Patients who fear the repercussions of stigma are less likely to get the help they need to overcome their addiction.

Further, stigma can even worsen addiction. When people suffering from addiction believe that they are being socially persecuted or discriminated against because of their substance use disorder, feelings of anxiety or depression can occur. The situation becomes even worse if the person suffers from mental health issues as well.

Why Is There Stigma Attached to Addiction?

There are a few reasons why addiction has long been stigmatized:

Association with illegal activity: While this is not always the case, many people who commit crimes do so while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Because of this association, some people perceive a link between addiction and criminal activity, which further strengthens the stigmatization of substance use disorders.

The notion of choice: Many people falsely believe that using drugs is a choice. While that might be true for the first time a person tries drugs, it goes far beyond that once addiction sets in. It’s hard for many people to understand that people dealing with addiction are being controlled by the drug, rather than the other way around.

Language: The language surrounding addiction is rather negative in nature. Many words linked to addiction have a stigmatizing effect, which can actually keep people from seeking help, no matter how badly they might need it. Words like “addict,” “alcoholic,” or “drug user” are also negative connotations that are often used to refer to someone who experiences addiction. There is power in words, and such language can perpetuate the stigma that continues to exist around addiction.

While stigma fosters shame and isolation, reducing stigma and discrimination can have the opposite effect. Removing such stigma from addiction can help patients with substance use disorders recover from their addiction.

Written by The Recovery Village Columbus