Are you familiar with the stigma that accompanies addiction? Do you know ways to combat that stigma? Stigma is a familiar experience for people with health conditions such as HIV, cancer, depression, anxiety, other mental illnesses, and especially addiction. Researchers have found that, compared to intervention on removing the stigma surrounding other forms of the disease, little progress has been made in removing the stigma around substance use disorders. Although research shows that addiction is a complex brain disease, the general public often regards people with addiction to be morally flawed and irresponsible.
If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, the stigma is something of concern. The unfortunate truth is that stigma can trigger or worsen the use of drugs and alcohol. It is equally important to understand both the accountability side of addiction and its unstoppable spiral tendencies, which can be beyond one’s willpower. Even healthcare and medical communities need to be better educated on this so that stigmatization based on ignorance can be minimized.
Where Does Addiction-Related Stigma Come From?
Stigma related to addiction comes primarily from the societal taboo of openly discussing substance use and its impact on people’s mental and behavioral health. Individuals and families often avoid talking about the problem, and it leaves the public unaware of how deeply entrenched addiction can become. Another source of stigma may come from the fact that depression symptoms and other mental disorders are made mysterious and difficult to talk about as well. The little-to-no public resources dedicated to education and awareness about addiction-related mental illness are insufficient. When people aren’t educated on the causes, effects, and risks of addiction and mental illness, people who suffer these are painted with a broad brush and assumed to be morally inferior.
Similarly, people with chronic addiction tend to demonstrate compulsive behaviors or use dishonest communication. Both may deter others from feeling empathy for their pain. The general public is not familiar with recent medical research that shows the changes in brain structures of long-term addicts. Therefore, many people tend to blame the addict’s disease on their poor personal choices. Medical care is often more focused on dealing with overdose rather than proactive intervention. More education in this area is also necessary.
How Do You Manage and Deal With Stigma?
Addicted individuals who experience stigma can feel rejected by family, friends, and society, which leads to more stress, anxiety, and increased substance use. Stigmatization indirectly contributes to the cycle of addiction.
And because stigma towards addicted individuals is a societal problem, everyone is responsible for helping undo and prevent its harm. Strategies to combat such stigma are similar to ways of countering other forms of prejudice. More education is necessary for helping the public understand addiction as a disease.
On the part of the addicted individual, there needs to be a reckoning to personal accountability. Owning past mistakes with honesty and humility is the first step, as the 12-step program guidelines show. Once a person enters into an addictive habit of using substances, deeper mechanisms kick in, and it is difficult to reverse the progression of addiction on one’s own.
Stigma also brings a lot of pessimism to people’s chances of recovery from addiction. To combat this, positive stories about how people can recover from chronic addiction with the help of medical professionals should be shared and celebrated. There are scientifically proven ways to rewind the brain and one’s behaviors to healthy, sober patterns. Recovering individuals can be portrayed as moral and motivated for positive change.
How Do You Support Those Who Experience Stigma?
If you or a loved one struggles with the stigma of addiction, it is important to surround yourself or that person with supportive people who share an informed understanding of the causes and effects of addiction. De-stigmatizing always begins with demystifying. You can choose to support organizations that advocate for removing stigma and educating people about substance use disorder.
The stigmatization of people who use drugs and alcohol may be worsening during, and after the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic since job loss, homelessness, and death continue to plague American society. As hospitals are overwhelmed, medical staff might not have the ability to extend care to the population suffering addiction and the resulting stigma. No matter a patient’s situation, the first step towards good care is being treated with dignity and compassion. When we move beyond stigma, we can encourage more people to reach out for help and set the stage for larger societal change too.
Are you or a loved one struggling with the stigma of addiction? There are strategies to combat stigmatization, and the first step is through education and intervention. You can be an advocate for de-stigmatization today. At Laguna Shores Recovery, we can help you in this process. The staff at our treatment center strives to provide catered programs to ensure the best treatment for you. We offer treatment plans such as detox, medication, 12-step groups, and relationship skills coaching that can significantly enhance your experience on the road to long-term, sustainable recovery. Schedule an appointment with a licensed mental healthcare professional or therapist at Laguna Shores Recovery today. We believe in holistic recovery, and we are here to listen, coach, and walk alongside you. We are a complete medical and residential facility offering a range of treatments, including diagnosis, behavioral therapies, 12-step programs, and treatment plans. Call us at (866) 229-9923, and we would be happy to walk alongside you.