Ending the Stigma: How to Help End the Stigma of Addiction
Even though progress has been made, there is still a lot of stigma around addiction. Read on to learn how to help end the stigma of addiction.
More than 20 million Americans are battling a substance addiction of some kind. That’s more than the number of people in the country suffering from all types of cancer, combined.
Yet, despite the prevalence of this affliction, the general conversation has yet to turn from judgment to empathy. In fact, a recent survey reveals that the public perceives drug addicts more negatively than those with mental illness.
As we make strides toward a more understanding tomorrow, there is a need to reverse this stigma of addiction. Every day, those suffering take their first steps toward recovery. How can we support their efforts?
The answer lies in breaking down the preconceived notion of who an addict really is. Today, we’re sharing a few ways everyone can work together to destigmatize this disease.
Ready to learn more? Let’s dig in.
The Social Impact of Stigmatization
Unfairly and hastily categorizing addicts not only affects their ability to get sober. It also causes long-term stress and anxiety that can lead to depression. When addicts feel discriminated against, they often experience a profound sense of loneliness.
This is a dangerous road to tread, as mental illness and addiction are often linked as a dual diagnosis. In fact, research shows that those clinically diagnosed as having a mental illness consume 69% of the alcohol in the country and 84% of the cocaine.
When an addict feels socially outcasted without any outlet through which they can share their emotions, those feelings of isolation only exacerbate. From there, a cycle occurs wherein the addict fails to seek help or reach out for fear of being rejected. At the same time, they delve deeper into the addiction to help combat that sense of unworthiness.
Thus, it’s important to take away the stigma around addiction. When we learn what actions and speech define this approach, we can help those suffering make a smart recovery that sticks.
The Effect on Medical Treatment
There is a myriad of reputable addiction recovery centers across the country. These are staffed with experts trained on every stage of addiction, who are experienced working with addicts and, as such, as are less likely to apply negative stereotypes when working with them.
Yet, there are still some healthcare professionals working in traditional medical settings who have not worked with as many addicts. Because of this, they often approach the situation differently and might not be as willing to open their doors and their waiting rooms to those sufferers.
When this happens and this pushback is perceived, it turns the addict away from seeking the medical attention they need. In fact, studies show that only 18.5% of addicts receive the addiction help they need.
Understanding the Psychology of Addiction
One of the most common stereotypes of addiction is that an addict can control their behavior.
As advocates for this community, it’s important to understand that this is not a condition fueled by choice.
Rather, once a person has crossed the threshold into addiction, reaching for a drink or another hit of a drug becomes less of a voluntary measure and more of one performed out of physical necessity.
Harvard scientists go so far as to say that addiction hijacks the brain.
The boost of dopamine that addicts feel when they engage in substance abuse eventually wears off as the addict becomes more tolerant of it. In turn, a larger amount of the substance is required to maintain that sense of euphoria.
Yet, even though the high is more difficult to achieve, it is no less desired. This is because addicts remember the effect the substance once had (a memory stored in the brain’s hippocampus) and seek to recreate it on a daily basis.
Breaking down the stigmas of addiction begins with understanding the psychological order of the disease. Now let’s take a look at a few proactive steps that can tear those walls down even more.
Breaking Down Addiction-Related Stigmas
Understanding addiction is key to becoming more tolerant of those in your family, at your workplace, or in your social group that might be struggling and in need of support.
Regardless of the specific situation, the reality is that no one wants to feel stigmatized, judged, or thought poorly of. This is especially the case with addicts, who may already feel cut off from society due to the road they’re walking.
Below are a few key ways everyone, including those without an addict in their lives, can work together to bring compassion and humanity to this disease. The more often we take an honest look at our actions and strive to change them, the more that progress can occur.
Eliminate Labels and Name-Calling
There are scores of negative names and labels associated with addiction. In fact, you may have used them in your general conversation without realizing their true effect.
Even seemingly benign terms such as “getting clean” can carry a negative connotation, so it’s important to rethink the use of such phrases. Along the same lines, words such as “junkie” “alcoholic” and “drug habit” can also be viewed as hurtful.
A simple step that you can do today to change the conversation is to avoid the use of these monikers. At the same time, encourage others around you to do the same.
Just as there have been movements to discourage the use of certain terms surrounding handicapped persons, the same effort should be made to treat addicts as the people they are, rather than defining them by their disease.
Turn a Listening Ear
We live in a fast-paced society telling us that, in order to keep pace with our neighbor, we have to take life by the horns and speak up for ourselves. We rush about in our daily lives, bury our noses in our smart devices, and text more than we call.
Yet, when was the last time you sat down with someone and listened more than you spoke? If there is someone suffering from addiction in your life, one of the most beneficial things you can do for them is to hear what they have to say.
As you do, resist the urge to interject with your own opinions or offer personal anecdotes. Instead, serve as a sounding board and a safe place for that person to release frustration and find support.
We tend to stigmatize and look unfavorably on issues we know very little about. Instead of automatically resorting to name-calling or passing judgment, seek to educate yourself on addiction and its associated behaviors.
Especially if you are close to someone who is in recovery, battling drug withdrawal, or in another phase of the journey, you should be well-versed in what to expect in the coming months and years. Even if you don’t know someone personally affected by the disease, it’s still smart to learn as much as possible about it. That way, you can help teach others ways to destigmatize it as well.
Speak Up for Change
The next time you’re in a conversation that steers toward addition, speak up if someone around you begins to cast a negative light on those suffering. If no one is willing to challenge the status quo, real progress cannot occur.
The same applies to any situation in which you witness someone being treated unfairly because of their addiction. Use your voice to promote unity and encourage fairness. You may even consider working with a local charity to bring recognition to the cause and encourage others to join you in changing the addiction perception.
Ending the Stigma of Addiction Once and for All
Those suffering from addiction can use all of the support, love, and encouragement we can offer them. The only things they don’t need from us are name-calling, judgment, and irreverent labels.
To help end the stigma of addiction, begin with a single step. Commit to avoiding negative behaviors that add to their loneliness and isolation. Invite a hurting friend to coffee. Volunteer at a local recovery center and see firsthand what a little compassion can do.
If you’re in the Scottsdale area and know someone currently in the throes of addiction, our recovery program can help.
Our team has more than 25 years of experience in the addiction treatment industry. We offer programs structured around individual treatment plans with long-term stability in mind. In addition to medical support, we also work to help those suffering from addiction integrate successfully back into their lives with a renewed sense of purpose.
To learn more, contact us today. Let’s take that first step together and break down barriers as we do.