Breaking the Stigma of Addiction

What comes to mind when you think about addiction? Many people imagine dark alleys, needles, jail cells and mugshots. It’s common to assume that addiction doesn’t affect people who seem to have it all together. But addiction can affect anyone, and it manifests itself differently every time it takes hold. Myths, stereotypes and misconceptions perpetuate a public stigma of addiction that can harm those who struggle with the disorder.


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Myths About Drug Addiction

Many drugs that are illegal today were prescribed by doctors to treat illnesses in the early 1900s. But as those substances became regulated, they started to be seen as illicit. Talking about drugs and addiction began to be seen as taboo.

Substance abuse became a secret, hidden disorder. When people stop talking about important issues, they forget about the facts. Education about drug abuse has been overshadowed by fear and punishment. This phenomenon has perpetuated the following myths, which contribute to the stigma of addiction.

Drug Addiction Is a Choice

There is an overwhelming amount of scientific evidence that supports the fact that addiction is a chronic disease. Although it can be caused by many factors, drug addiction is linked with disruptions in the brain that:

  • Trigger substance-seeking behavior
  • Reduce sensitivity to pleasure
  • Increase sensitivity to stress
  • Diminish executive functioning

But 50% of Americans don’t believe the facts. The same people who would never blame or shame someone for developing another disease, such as cancer or diabetes, think that addiction is a choice. But you can’t just choose to be free of a disease, and someone who is addicted to drugs can’t simply decide to stop.

People With Alcohol and Drug Addiction Are Weak

Most people who struggle with substance abuse are in physical, emotional or psychological pain. In some cases, this distress leads to addiction. In other cases, addiction produces this turmoil.

But emotions don’t make you weak; they make you human. Addiction is linked to chemical imbalances in the brain. Those biological disturbances are further aggravated by the drug use, making it feel impossible to quit without help.

The stigma of addiction makes some people think that those who can’t quit are weak. In actuality, quitting some drugs using the cold-turkey method can be life-threatening. Even if someone wants to stop using, they usually require support and professional treatment to protect their mental and physical health as they enter recovery. Willpower alone cannot help you overcome addiction. However, you can learn skills to help you manage distressing emotions, prevent cravings and cope with triggers for substance use.

You Don’t Have an Addiction If You Have a Stable Life

Addiction often infuses your life with some instability. However, people who are swayed by the stigma of addiction believe that individuals with substance use disorders are dangerous or unpredictable. They’re often labeled as criminals or sociopaths. Besides the fact that labeling anyone with those terms ignores the trauma or mental health issues that they may be dealing with, it’s particularly incorrect when it comes to drug addiction.

People with drug abuse problems often work hard to hide it. From the outside, they can appear successful, happy, engaged with others and connected to the community. It might look as though nothing is wrong.

Why Addiction Stigma is Dangerous

The stigma of addiction leads to prejudice and discrimination against people with drug addiction problems.

The Stigma of Addiction Reduces Quality of Care

Everyone faces challenges in life, and nobody is perfect. We may not eat the healthiest foods at all times. We might engage in high-risk behaviors, such as motorcycle riding, to get a thrill. But if someone who eats bacon regularly goes to the emergency room with heart attack symptoms, we wouldn’t argue that they don’t deserve treatment. If a biker gets into a wreck, we don’t say that they brought it on themselves and avoid getting them help.

But people who experience health emergencies related to their addiction are often mistreated and dehumanized in clinical settings. Addiction stigma generates fear, disgust and anger in the eyes of healthcare professionals. Some medical providers may discriminate against people who need care that’s related to their addiction.

In one survey, almost 25% of medical providers said that offering opioid use disorder treatment in their practices would bring in undesirable patients. Furthermore, many clinicians fail to offer adequate treatment, such as medication for opioid use disorder, because their biases overwhelm the evidence that those treatments are effective.

Addiction Stigma Prevents People From Seeking Help

The stigma of addiction is rife with blame and shame. In the field of psychiatry and human development, it is well understood that making someone feel bad doesn’t help them get better. The embarrassment that comes from addiction stigma can fuel other negative feelings. It may also push someone who is already isolated further into seclusion and loneliness.

If someone believes that they are weak or immoral because of their addiction, they aren’t going to be very encouraged to change their behavior. Their self-esteem and self-worth will suffer, which can make them turn to drugs to cope with those emotions.

On the other hand, someone who buys into the myth that they don’t have an addiction if they have a successful career or healthy marriage may not feel a need to seek treatment. If you give credence to the idea that you have to hit rock bottom before getting help, you may never realize that you have a problem.

How to Combat the Stigma of Addiction

Talking about addiction is the primary way to break the stigma of addiction. Education, conversations, curiosity and compassion break down barriers and help people understand the facts about alcohol and drug addiction.

It’s important to use nonjudgmental terms to describe elements of drug addiction. A lot of colloquial language that’s related to addiction is associated with negative biases, punishment and shame.

Learning more about addiction can help you drop some of the misconceptions surrounding drug abuse. Education also helps you talk about addiction in a different light.

At Burning Tree Programs, we aim to help our clients open up about their addictions. When they are surrounded by peers and professionals with a broader perspective, they can understand themselves better. Please don’t hesitate to seek treatment if you’re struggling with addiction.

Feel free to contact us with any questions. All of your inquiries and concerns are valid. You’re a whole person with a disease that can be managed with the right programs. Participating in treatment in our judgment-free addiction treatment center helps to break the stigma of addiction so that you can get the care that you need.


Find an Inpatient Rehab Program Now

We are here to help you through every aspect of recovery. Call our admissions team to find the best for long-term recovery.

(866) 287-2877


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