How Can You Face Addiction Stigma?
Updated: Jan 5
The stigma surrounding addiction is huge. What is this stigma? This stigma is the negative attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors targeted towards those who struggle with addiction, whether they are in recovery or not. Even after years of making progress in moving past the stigma, many people still don't understand addiction or what it is.
Untreated alcohol and substance abuse leads to tens of thousands of deaths every year and impacts the lives of many more. Even though substance use disorder is a disease experienced by many, people still treat it as a choice and blame the person struggling. The justice and healthcare systems and the public see substance abuse as a character flaw and something to be judged rather than treated.
The History of the Stigma Surrounding Addiction
Since the early 1900s, those struggling with alcoholism have had a poor public persona. The public viewed them as criminals, and this thought seeped down to their families as well. When the "war on drugs" began, rather than focusing on treatment as a useful tool, incarceration and criminalizing substance use was the answer.
The impact of this still exists in the media and society today. Although addiction is a chronic disease that requires medical treatment for recovery, that fact gets ignored in favor of judgment.
Even though most estimates agree that roughly one in four or one in five Americans will experience a mental health problem or misuse alcohol or drugs during their lifetime, perceptions about the dangerousness and unpredictability of people with mental health and substance use disorders have increased over time.
The Effect of Stigma on Those Struggling
Due to the intense stigma those who struggle with addiction face, many people avoid seeking help or speaking to loved ones about their problems. Even without the added stigma, there is a lot of shame surrounding addiction. Even seeking treatment, a courageous and healthy decision, can seem weak because of this correlation.
Much of the stigma surrounding addiction also involves the law, public perception, and self-stigma. Public policy is created based on public opinion, so these two go hand-in-hand. If the public believes people suffering from substance abuse should be punished rather than treated, that goes into effect legally. This makes seeking treatment more difficult.
When both institutions and people stigmatize addiction, that leads to self-stigma. Being ashamed of oneself reduces the odds of seeking or completing treatment. This also prevents people from disclosing that they are in recovery for fear of judgment or discrimination.
How to Handle Addiction Stigma
Alleviating stigma is not easy. It has taken years for policy changes to go into effect. Making change on a large scale takes time and patience. Although your involvement is crucial, facing personal stigma in your own life should be your first step. Some ways you can learn to handle the stigma surrounding addiction include:
#1. Educate Yourself and Others
Throughout treatment and recovery, you have peers and professionals around you that are familiar with addiction. This means explaining yourself and fighting against judgment isn't as necessary at that time. Once you leave treatment or take your recovery into the outside world, the stigma arises. Disclosing why you were away from work can be scary to admit.
Admitting your past substance use to friends and family can also take a lot of courage.
One of the best ways to overcome stigma within your recovery is education. Read up on the truth around addiction. Understanding that addiction is a disorder, not a character flaw, is critical. Learning why there is stigma and where those falsehoods come from can clarify a lot for you to take the steps you need to.
#2. Focus on Hope and Confidence
Believing in the stigma and letting it overwhelm you puts you in a negative headspace and reduces your chance at a successful recovery. Focusing on hope and your confidence puts what you know and what you can control ahead of what others might think or feel.
#3. Surround Yourself With Like-Minded People
You cannot change the minds of the public. Public perception of addiction has been there for years, so worrying more about how you view your recovery is vital. Surrounding yourself with a support group can help you maintain a goal-oriented mindset. Being around people who understand your struggles with addiction and facing addiction stigma reminds you that you are not alone and that there are people who understand.
Coming to Terms With Stigma
Once you can come to terms with the stigma surrounding addiction yourself, you can put effort into making a difference. Speak out, educate others, and share your story. Protest, start campaigns to raise public awareness so that the stigma is discouraged.
Helping the world understand addiction as it truly is will improve all aspects of recovery from treatment, therapy, and beyond. There is always room for improvement, and you can be a part of that change.
The stigma surrounding addiction negatively impacts the lives of millions who are struggling. The negative view of substance abuse began years ago and continues today due to unpleasant falsehoods and misleading stories. Facing this stigma when you are going through your own addiction struggles is not fair but, unfortunately, is part of the process for many. Understanding that addiction is a disease that requires medical intervention can help you make the right decisions for yourself and your health. Pushing past how others view addiction and focusing on your own recovery and positivity can help you remain hopeful. Leaning on others who understand your position and have been where you are can ease your pain and motivate you. Find a positive outlet for your fight against addiction stigma today with help from California Care Detox and Treatment. We want to make seeking help easier for everyone. Call us today at (949) 281-0632.