Content reviewed by Christian Losch, LCSW, LCADC, CEO of Pinelands
Addiction is an incredibly stigmatized condition. Individuals that have never experienced a substance use disorder (SUD) such as addiction are likely to latch on to negative stereotypes and stigmas of addiction without even realizing it. However, by affirming stigmas, struggling individuals delay seeking treatment and experience exacerbating mental health and substance use problems in the long term.
The fact is that addiction is a chronic and complex brain disease that requires treatment. Nearly one in 14 Americans experience an SUD at some point in their lives, making this particular disorder an epidemic in this nation. The stigmas connected to addiction only worsen the lives of individuals who are already struggling and their loved ones. It is time to take a stand against these stigmas, challenge them and encourage treatment for those struggling.
Stigma comes from a lack of education.
When referencing addiction stigma, the term stigma refers to negative or discriminatory attitudes about individuals that struggle with substance use. Stigma has been an ongoing issue for several health conditions, especially mental health disorders. It is essential to understand that stigma is not fact. Instead, it is quite the opposite, as stigma develops from a lack of education.
Addiction is not a sign of moral weakness.
One of the most common misconceptions surrounding addiction is that it is a sign of moral weakness or failure. In other words, many people believe that addiction is a choice. However, addiction is not a character flaw or defect. It is a disease that can lead to distressing consequences.
When people are exposed to drugs, their brains become flooded with chemicals that override critical areas of identifying pleasure, motivating behavior and controlling impulses. With repeated exposure, the brain quickly begins to identify drug use as a way to achieve feelings of joy and encourages recurrent substance use behavior to feel pleasure continuously. Over time, the brain learns to rely on impulsive behavior and cannot resist temptation.
While an individual’s initial decision to use drugs and alcohol may have been their choice, their addiction was not. However, they do have to pay the consequences. Treatment can help.
Addiction can happen to anyone.
When people have a judgmental attitude towards individuals that struggle with addiction, they likely perceive that they themselves could never succumb to recurrent substance use. In this case, it is vital to understand that addiction does not discriminate. It can happen to anyone at any time. More often than not, many people initially begin to use substances to self-medicate trauma and stress. Once substance use becomes regularly repeated, it can quickly develop into addiction.
On the other hand, it is essential to recognize that addiction does not always surface as a substance use problem. People can develop addictive behaviors, such as gambling and overeating, resulting in significant life consequences. No one is ever safe from developing an addiction.
What can you do to reduce stigma?
Stigma is not something that can be eliminated overnight, mainly because it developed through years of misinformation. However, there are specific ways that you can actively work to reduce the stigma surrounding these topics in your daily life.
Become educated and educate others.
As mentioned previously, stigma develops from a lack of education and misinformation. You can reduce stigma by becoming educated about addiction and then working to educate others. Here are some places you can start:
- Research the prevalence of mental health disorders and substance use in our nation.
- Learn about the risk factors associated with the development of mental health conditions and substance use disorders.
- Learn about the warning signs that others may exhibit if they develop an addiction.
- Learn about how different substances affect the brain and associated functioning.
- Research effective treatments and recognize valuable resources for individuals that struggle with substance use.
- Speak publicly about your advocation to reduce stigma and challenge negative stereotypes when they surface in conversation.
Challenge stigmas surrounding social justice issues.
You can also reduce stigma by challenging stigma when it surfaces in your life. When you have conversations with family or friends or even watch the news, be mindful of the language and connotations people use to describe others. Learn how to challenge the stigmas by pointing them out when they are brought up in conversation. Often people will make comments or stigmatize situations without even realizing it. Therefore, it is essential to point out and question others regarding where they are coming from.
This educational stance does not always have to be about substance use issues. By challenging stigma in general, you bring attention to unconscious biases and lack of education in yourself and others. It is imperative to do your part to reduce stigma so that people can learn not to feel ashamed in asking for help and get the treatment that they need to heal.
Pinelands Recovery Center of Medford is a drug and alcohol treatment center that understands how problematic stigma can be for struggling individuals who need treatment. We offer comprehensive, compassionate care for our patients along with several unique treatment programs. If you or your loved one is struggling, understand that effective treatment is available. Call us today to learn more at (877) 557-5372.