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Combatting Shame and Stigma in Recovery

Combatting Shame and Stigma in Recovery

People who struggle with substance abuse disorder (SUD) may know very well about the prevalence of stigma in society that comes with addiction. People tend to use negative language when referring to people with SUD. Many times, family members and friends also succumb to judgments and assume that addiction has mostly to do with moral weakness.

Shame and stigma about addiction are common but harmful barriers to treatment. Even in recovery, one might still need to deal with the residual effects of stigma. Dealing with societal stigma about addiction may create stress or hinder people from making progress. The ultimate cure for combatting shame and stigma is to be grounded in the belief that SUD is a chronic disease, not a sign of weakness, and that no one has to be defined by addiction.

Shame and Stigma Create Problems

When families feel ashamed about the SUD of a loved one, they are giving in to a harmful trend that is not only unscientific but also counterproductive. Because of shame and stigma, they are less likely to acknowledge the problem. When a loved one needs help and support, these family members are often not able to provide adequate care or support. Shame and stigma have prevented many well-to-do families to seek treatment for their teenagers who struggle with SUD because of the fear of how it will be perceived.

Shame and stigma prevent people from getting educated about the science of addiction. They tend to believe that addiction is a moral problem rather than what it is—a disease and a treatable health condition. This belief can greatly demotivate families from supporting their loved ones through treatment and recovery. It can cause them to get upset when a loved one relapses and make them consider the loved one a “lost cause.”

Addiction as a Chronic Disease

In many ways, SUD is like other chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, which require people to modify their behavior and spend their lifetime maintaining progress. In all chronic health conditions, there is always the possibility of relapse. Why does addiction trigger moral judgment, but not other chronic diseases?

When family members are under the influence of societal stigma and don’t view addiction as a type of chronic disease, they may not be motivated to help make necessary changes in the home. The burden of change is put on the recovering individual. These family members are also less likely to seek help from health professionals. These factors tend to keep the problem alive.

Education Is the Key to De-Stigmatization 

There is only one way to combat shame and stigma: through education. Getting informed about how addiction develops and what kind of support a recovering individual needs is the first step. Family-based therapy may help achieve these goals. Recovery experts can show family members that addiction is a type of chronic disease and encourage the entire family to adopt recovery-supportive changes at home.

There are many proven interventions to address self-stigma among recovering individuals. These include therapeutic group-based acceptance and commitment therapy, motivational interviewing, and the positive role-modeling of people sharing their stories of de-stigmatization. Medical professionals also need de-stigmatization training because their attitudes matter to recovering individuals.

Healing From Past Stigmatization

Recovering individuals should seek therapy if they have been exposed to the trauma of stigmatization in the past. When a person has been surrounded by negative judgment, it is difficult to rise above those negative attitudes. Many people with addiction struggle with negative self-talk, always placing the blame on themselves.

In recovery, self-care and a positive mindset are important. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help recovering individuals overcome past stigma and shame. Professional therapists can help them learn effective and healthy coping mechanisms to help break the train of negative self-talk. Although these thought patterns cannot be turned off like a light switch, with CBT and time, many people have experienced healing so profound that they can distance their identity from stigma.

Refusing to Allow Past Addiction to Define You

The core remedy to stigma is for recovering individuals to refuse to let addiction define who they are. Recovery is a time to explore and rediscover one’s self-identity. Through individual and group therapy, individuals will learn about themselves more deeply and positively. There is inherent value in everyone which should not be defined by external circumstances.

Combatting stigma also requires a more mature understanding of mistakes and failure. Even when the danger of relapse looms, one should not be intimidated by making mistakes. Individuals should not let a sense of failure define them. Personal growth may come out of mistakes. What matters most is to learn how to love oneself and others in life.

Recovering from the harmful effects of drugs and alcohol is difficult, and it is made even more so when recovering individuals hold onto shame and stigma. People tend to use negative language when referring to people with SUD. Many family members and friends may also succumb to judgments and assume that addiction has mostly to do with moral weakness. Do you succumb to these prejudices yourself? We can help you and your loved one overcome these challenges. At Laguna Shores Recovery, our experienced mental health professionals can coach and support you and your family members to support your recovery. We believe in evidence-based and holistic approaches. Stigma and shame have no place in our community. Call us today to discover how you can free yourself from addiction and the effects of shame and stigma. For more information, call (866) 229-9923.