There is a definitive stigma around addiction in society. People believe that treating the addicted with compassion will encourage their behavior and worsen society’s situation. This notion hurts the sentiments of those suffering from Substance Use Disorder (SUD) and hinders their path to recovery.
What is the Stigma of Addiction?
Addiction stigma refers to the negative attitudes, beliefs, and stereotypes society has about people with substance abuse and behavioral addictions. Stigma can manifest itself in many ways. This includes exclusion from society, unfair treatment and unnecessary judgment. This in turn creates a cycle of shame, guilt, and secrecy that prevents individuals from seeking help and accessing appropriate therapy and treatment.
Stigma is one of the major roadblocks that prevent society from overcoming addiction and substance overdose challenges. Stigma is a Latin and Greek word that means to burn or tattoo someone to signify disgrace. Today, stigma means labeling, stereotyping, and discriminating against those with addiction problems. Another depressing stigma of addiction is the use of disparaging and judgmental words to refer to the problem of addiction and Substance Use Disorder (SUD) and the treatment of these disorders.
What Causes the Stigma of Addiction?
Research shows that stigma about addiction is prevalent, widespread, and anchored in the belief that substance is a person’s personal choice. This choice reflects a lack of willpower and indicates moral failure for an individual.
The combination of cultural, psychological, and societal factors is the reason for the existing stigma around addiction in our society. Shedding light on why stigma exists can help in understanding how to address it. Here are some key reasons why the stigma of addiction exists:
1. Lack of Understanding:
Society views addiction as a moral failure rather than a mental health condition involving biological, psychological, and environmental factors.
2. Fear and Orthodox Stereotypes:
There is a common misconception about people with substance abuse problems that they are dangerous, untrustworthy, and incapable of recovery.
3. Historical Beliefs:
Historical beliefs about addiction as a moral failing and criminal behavior influence societal behavior.
4. Blame and Judgment:
Addiction can happen to anyone. Some people who believe otherwise begin to stigmatize addiction as a means to distance themselves.
5. False Sense of Security:
Labeling addiction as a moral or personal failing creates a false sense of security. People believe that they are immune to such addictions and do not acknowledge that it can happen to anyone.
6. Cultural Influence:
Cultural norms shape society’s attitude toward addiction. It is a sign of a lack of self-control and reinforces stigma.
7. Religious Influence:
Certain religions and religious practices prohibit and criminalize the use of substances.
8. Media Influence:
Media also plays a part in the stigmatization of addiction. The media portrays such individuals in negative and sensational ways. This creates stereotypes and misconceptions in society.
9. Prevent Self-Harm:
Those who understand the uncomfortable reality that addiction can happen to anyone stigmatize addiction as a way to protect themselves from becoming addicted.
How Stigma Affects Someone with Addiction
Society urgently needs to combat the stigma around addiction. It is important to recognize the enormous challenge that stigma poses to people suffering from addiction in our community. This includes patients with substance use disorders and mental illnesses.
Here is how the stigma of addiction affects people suffering from addiction and Substance Use Disorders:
The Stigma of Addiction Prevents Patients from Seeking Help:
There is a barrier that prevents individuals suffering from substance use disorder and substance addiction from discussing and seeking help. They suffer from a constant fear of being judged and ostracized by society. This stigma about addiction prevents them from reaching out to medical professionals and support groups.
Lack of Resources and Limited Access Due to Stigma Around Addiction:
Stigma creates a lack of resources for medical research for the treatment of substance use disorders and addiction. Society sees addiction as a character flaw and not as a medical condition that requires treatment and delicate care. This makes it difficult to gather funds for research and administer treatment programs.
As a result, people with SUDs are unable to get proper treatment or get limited treatment.
There is Evident Social Isolation Because of the Stigma of Addiction:
People with addiction problems are often labeled with derogatory names. This includes “addicts”, ”junkies”, “abusers”, “druggies”, “lost causes”, etc. such labels have a detrimental effect on their self-esteem, healing, and overall well-being.
People with addiction problems often face social isolation, which worsens their mental health and exacerbates their symptoms.
Stigma about Addiction Leads to Negative Self-Perception:
Society views individuals with addiction problems as unworthy and problem-causing. This causes internalization of stigma in such individuals. They develop negative self-perception and a lack of self-worth.
Often, this can result in a prolonged cycle of addiction since it is difficult to break free from such negative beliefs.
Legal and Employment Consequences Due to the Stigma of Addiction:
People with addiction problems often face problems getting proper employment. There is clear discrimination in workplaces, and individuals suffering from addiction problems find it difficult to earn their livelihoods.
Such individuals face legal problems when seeking housing, divorce, or custody of a child.
Lack of Empathy and Compassion for this Form of Mental Illness:
Addiction stigma often stems from a vague understanding of addiction’s complexities and associated symptoms. Such individuals also struggle to find compassion and empathy from society.
The road to recovery and reintegration into society becomes tough in such cases.
There is a Risk of Relapse due to the Stigma of Addiction:
Societal stigma contributes to stress among substance addiction patients. Such individuals will always face the threat of relapse due to the fear of being judged and unsupported. This can trigger a return to substance use as a coping mechanism.
Ways to Fight the Stigma of Addiction:
Individuals, communities, policymakers, and institutions must work together to fight addiction stigma. It is important to raise awareness, foster empathy, and promote education to create a more intrusive and supportive environment for individuals affected by substance use disorder. Here are the changes required to fight stigma:
Speak About Addiction:
Many of us don’t speak about addiction because we fear the responses we will get. People may disagree with us and tell us we are naive. However, silence only makes their voices louder. If the people willing to speak about addiction all refer to it as a moral failing, this belief is reinforced in a society that otherwise learns about mental health.
It is not easy to speak about addiction, but it is important that we do so. It does not have to dominate every conversation, but we should engage people about it when it comes up. If you have suffered from addiction, try being vulnerable with the people you trust and sharing your experience. This will have a greater impact than any public health campaign.
Promote Education and Awareness:
It is important to propagate accurate and evidence-based information about this medical condition called addiction. It is also important to highlight its causes and the possibility of recovery.
Public awareness campaigns to curb stereotypes are necessary.
Change in Language and Terms:
It is important to change the way addiction is addressed. Language should emphasize the person first and not their condition. For example, the word “addict” can be replaced with “person with a substance use disorder”. Raising awareness about stigmatizing words and encouraging replacing them with empathetic and respectful language is required.
Promote Empathy and Understanding:
It is important to share stories of recovering individuals to humanize their experience and show hope for recovery.
There should be empathy training for healthcare professionals, law enforcers, and communities that increases understanding and reduces unnecessary judgment.
Promote a safe environment where individuals suffering from addiction can share thoughts without fear of judgment. Support groups, community centers, and peers should provide an environment where they can connect and talk freely.
Changes in Education:
Integration of appropriate education in schools can help the young develop a better understanding of addiction and reduce the prevalence of stigma in the future.
Policymakers should advocate policies that focus on addiction treatment, prevention, and harm; and not punitive punishment for drug use or possession. This will help individuals overcome the stigma of addiction.
Responsible Media Representation:
Media should encourage positive stories of addiction recovery and avoid portrayals of addiction that promote sensationalism and stereotypes.
Support Content Creators:
There are a lot of people creating content – whether books, movies, TV series, or other forms of media – that addresses addiction in a healthy way. These creatives are shining a light on the subject through storytelling. This is an incredibly powerful tool in fighting stigma.
You can support content creators simply by engaging with their creative output. If you find a book helpful, give it a positive review on Goodreads or Amazon. If a movie resonates with you, review it on IMDb.
From Judgment to Understanding: Stigma of Addiction
It is imperative to dismantle the stigma surrounding addiction in today’s world. This deeply rooted bias hinders individuals from seeking the treatment they deserve. By dispelling such beliefs, we can create an environment of support and empathy. In the absence of stigma, individuals will be able to seek treatment without fear and reintegrate into society with much ease.