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  • The stigma of this disease views addiction as a choice, weakness, or moral failing. This belief puts all blame on the addicted individual, which is both inaccurate and dangerous.

    Stigma is a major barrier to treatment that prevents individuals from asking for help and often results in substandard care. Many people won’t admit that they have a problem with addiction because they’re afraid they’ll be met with shame and rejection. 

    Getting rid of stigma can prevent drug- and alcohol-related deaths and lead addicted individuals to a better life in recovery. Here are several ways to fight the stigma of addiction.

    Educate The Public About Addiction

    Education is a crucial part of fighting stigma. A lot of people don’t understand that addiction is a disease caused by changes in the brain’s chemical structure. 

    A person may choose to use drugs or alcohol for the first time, but these substances quickly alter the brain with repeated use. They cause physical and/or mental cravings that make someone unable to resist substance abuse by willpower alone.

    Some individuals are more vulnerable to addiction because of their genetics or the environment in which they were raised. 

    Educating the public on how addiction works encourages compassion rather than judgment. This shift in perspective is the root of the fight against stigma.

    Talk About Addiction

    Talking about addiction can make it seem more real and less frightening. When it’s treated as taboo, people are afraid of it and feel that it’s unmanageable.

    Some individuals fuel stigma because they have misguided ideas about addiction and recovery. Speaking up against their negative comments may help them be more understanding in the future.

    Sharing recovery success stories can also fight the stigma of addiction. People with addiction aren’t doomed to live hopelessly—they can (and do) recover and find new meaning in life.

    Change The Language Of Addiction

    The way people talk about addiction can make it seem shameful, which feeds the stigma. 

    Words like “user,” “addict,” and “druggie” define a person by their addiction rather than viewing it as an illness. Slang terms for substance abuse like “fix” or “habit” don’t accurately portray the struggle of addiction.

    Using respectful language and medical terms to refer to addiction can help people see it as a disease rather than a personal shortcoming.

    Treat Addicted Individuals With Dignity

    We all have struggles. Alcohol or drug addiction doesn’t make a person less human. Treating them poorly doesn’t help them—it shames them. Treating them with dignity removes the stigma so they can feel safe asking for help.

    Addiction can affect people from all walks of life and income levels. Generalizing addicted individuals as if they’re all the same is harmful. Before they became consumed by drugs or alcohol, they were unique, and they still are. 

    Train Healthcare Professionals In Addiction

    People who struggle with addiction may act in unpredictable ways. If they end up in the emergency room because of an overdose, withdrawal symptoms, or a substance-related injury, they may need to be treated differently than others.

    Healthcare professionals who aren’t prepared to deal with addiction may approach these people with judgment or fear. They may not provide the best care because they let their personal opinions get in the way.

    Some emergency room personnel assume that addicted patients come in to get more drugs. Staff may be half-hearted in their attempts to help because they think the individual got themselves into the situation and should get themselves out.

    Even addiction treatment providers may treat only the symptoms of addiction. This method overlooks underlying issues that cause substance abuse in the first place and places blame on the individual. 

    While healthcare professionals should understand that addiction is a disease, they aren’t all equipped to avoid stigmatizing people with drug- or alcohol-related issues. 

    Stigma should never prevent someone from saving a life.

    Encourage People With Addiction To Get Help

    Fighting stigma doesn’t mean disregarding the negative effects of addiction. Addiction can destroy a person’s life and many people need formal treatment to overcome it.

    It’s possible to encourage someone to get help without shaming them. 

    Talk to them honestly about how they’re harming themselves and their loved ones through substance abuse. Help them see how life could be better without alcohol or drugs.

    Why Fight The Stigma Of Addiction?

    The mental health of each individual contributes to the wellbeing of society as a whole. When people are afraid to get addiction treatment, we may all be affected by things like rising healthcare costs and increased crime levels.

    Stigma doesn’t just occur within the healthcare system. It can happen among family members, in the workplace, and in public. 

    Addiction usually stems from an inability to deal with stress and negative emotions. Stigma can make an addicted person feel rejected, worthless, and powerless, which may cause them to increase their use of drugs or alcohol for relief. 

    To break this cycle, we need to rise above the stigma of addiction. Treating addicted individuals with compassion rather than judgment is more likely to lead them to recovery.

    To explore addiction treatment options for yourself or a loved one, speak with an Ark Behavioral Health treatment specialist today.

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2023 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.

    Addiction Technology Transfer Center Network - Anti-Stigma Toolkit: A Guide to Reducing Addiction-Related Stigma
    National Institute on Drug Abuse - Addressing the Stigma that Surrounds Addiction

    Medically Reviewed by
    Kimberly Langdon M.D.
    on July 26, 2022
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