From The Blog

Overcoming the Social Stigma of Addiction Treatment

Stigmatizing attitudes in the U.S. regarding addiction are widely accepted, culturally endorsed, and enshrined in policy (criminal law). In these cases, the stigma of substance use problems may produce negative effects, such as:

• Increase of substance use among younger adolescents
• Decreased public interest in applying solutions
• Decreased motivation in people to seek help

In fact, several studies have found that substance use disorders are more highly stigmatized than other health conditions. Through the stigma, social groups discourage and marginalize addiction, which seriously affect the people in risk. However, the social stigma of “addicts as abnormal” has created a stereotype about addiction and its treatment that is SIMPLY NOT TURE.

How can we cope with the negative stereotypes surrounding addiction? And what are its dangers? We explore here. Then, we invite your feedback or questions at the end.

Dangers Of The Stigma: Not Asking For Help

Very often people who are diagnosed with addiction, a.k.a. substance use disorders, are perceived to have control over their illness. The blame and pressure thrown at them can change the way they view themselves. People respond to this stigma with anger and punishment or avoidance, holding addicts responsible for their behavior. Psychological breakdown is a common occurrence in these harsh emotional and/or physical attacks. What does the stigma result in?

1. Fear of the process
People who are facing addiction often suppress their feelings of shame and accept the problem as their own fault, putting too much burden on their backs. This is a time when self-esteem starts crashing. People who are victims of the stigma of addiction see themselves as too weak to solve their own problems, which decreases the willingness to change lessen.

2. Fear of punishment
The fear of losing a child, friend, job, or medical insurance can provoke people to deny a problem with addiction. A system which punishes addicts through mandatory sentencing frustrates the treatment process. It causes people to hide rather than to seek help.

3. Fear of social judgment
Substance use behaviors are often linked symbolically to a range of other stigmatized health conditions such as:
• Hepatitis C virus
• Mental illness
• Social problems (poverty, criminality)

Negative stereotypes guide social action, public policy and the allocation of health-care expenditures. Therefore, people with substance use disorders may experience stigma as a consequence of the culturally endorsed stereotypes that surround the health condition.

How To Cope With The Stigma Of Addiction?

There are many studies that show how self-stigma can be reduced through therapeutic interventions such as group-based acceptance and commitment therapy. Some effective strategies address social stigma by sharing positive stories of people who have successfully struggled with the stigma of addiction and do motivational interviewing. Some of the steps you can take to cope with the stigma include:

STEP 1. Accept addiction as an illness and learn how you can heal from it. Do not blame yourself! There are many circumstances that lead to this condition.

STEP 2. Attend a self-help group such as SMART Recovery, Alcoholics Anonymous, or Narcotics Anonymous which can support you while recovering. You are not alone. Many people have walked the same way and their experiences can help you manage your addiction easier.

STEP 3. Learn more about addiction through psychotherapy. You will understand how addiction works and how it affects you physically and psychologically. This was the goal of creating Addiction Blog. Educating yourself can help you prepare for living a substance-free life. The therapy you choose will help you build up your self-confidence and self-esteem again, and create new healthy habits that will help you overcome any possible relapse.

STEP 4. Talk to your friends or family about your concerns and explain how and what you feel in your relationship with them. Although you may feel “emotionally exposed” when you let your guard down, directly expressing to the key individuals in your life just how important their understanding and acknowledgement is to you can boost your chances for a successful recovery. Many recent studies show that when you have a strong social support network working in your favor, your chances for a full recovery increase markedly. Letting the important people in your life know that their support will mean a lot to your recovery from addiction can strengthen your relationship and bring you closer together.

How Can We Advocate For Addiction Treatment In Public?

There are a few ways to advocate for addiction treatment. The first is to contact your local, state, and federal lawmakers to communicate your interest in the subject. Look into NGOs like Faces and Voices of Recovery or The National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence (NCADD) for precise suggestions. Join advocacy groups in your area that work to increase public awareness of this issue. Or, commit to your local community addiction recovery center through volunteer work. Just get out there, and become a face of addiction recovery.

On a broader level there are some initiatives that can be replicated. It is these larger changes in public policy and funding that can affect our society in general. In fact, a couple of programs have been developed so far. Some of them cover:

New curriculum for medical students – Programs that educate medical students about the problem of substance use. By exposing them to people with substance use disorders earlier in their training, it will decrease their stigmatizing attitudes and increase comfort levels towards working with this population.

Law enforcement training – Interventions that target police officers and substance use counselors have positive effects on stigma-related outcomes associated with substance use disorders. These interventions can affect prejudices built surrounding the stigma and make their approach more neutral when working with alcohol or drug addicted folks.

The Importance Of Reducing The Social Stigma Around Addiction Treatment

Improving the attitudes and perceptions of the general public towards people diagnosed with addiction may be best accomplished through communication strategies that promote positive stories and through motivational interviewing approaches with particular target groups (landlords or employers). With more tolerance and understanding, people who suffer from addiction can easily get the help they need without a fear of being discriminated against. However, these changes can best begin WITH US. Talking about addiction, recovery, and treatment can open people’s eyes to the problem. Each of us in addiction recovery can be a spokesperson, supporting those who come after us.

Overcoming Social Stigma Around Addiction Treatment Questions

Did you find this article useful? If you still have questions about overcoming social stigma around addiction treatment, please write to us at the bottom of the page. We`ll try our best to respond to you personally and promptly…or to refer you to someone who can help.

Reference Sources

NCBI: The effectiveness of interventions for reducing stigma related to substance use disorders

For more on addiction, check out Addiction Blog

By Lee Weber