There are many people who still falsely believe that drug addiction is an issue of morality. However, the truth of the matter is that most addicts don’t choose to continue using drugs once they start. In fact, continued use is mostly due to physical or psychological dependence. And, unlike anyone else with any other health issue, people suffering from drug dependency get blamed for their problems. The stigmatization of drug addiction instills a sense of shame, guilt, and fear that prevents millions of suffering people from seeking out the treatment they need.
What Is Stigmatization?
A “stigma” describes a set of negative views that society has in regards to a certain topic or group of people. These views are rarely (if ever) based on facts. Instead, they stem from assumptions and harmful generalizations. Stigmatization, then, is a major factor of prejudice, rejection, avoidance, discrimination, and marginalization— an enemy against basic human rights.
The Stigmatization of Drug Addiction
The once-taboo issue of mental health is now at the forefront of public conversation. This newfound open-mindedness has brought about new methods of treatment, healing and effective coping techniques. Still, the people suffering from mental diseases— which includes drug addiction— are not treated the same way as people suffering from any other diseases. This is due largely to the fact that part of society still doesn’t believe that addiction is a disease of the brain; one that can actually be treated. This staggering lack of support discourages anyone with a drug addiction from getting help. In fact, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health conducted in 2014 found that an annual average of 21.5 million Americans suffer from some form of drug addiction, but only 2.5 million step forward to receive any treatment.
The Factors Behind the Stigma
There are several reasons why such a heavy stigmatization surrounds drug addiction. First and foremost, people fear what they don’t fully understand, and we’re still learning about certain mental illnesses and how to properly treat them. Beyond that, people aren’t as accepting of the issues surrounding addiction for a variety of reasons.
Decades of Anti-Drug Movements
We are taught from a young age that drugs are bad. The government and society at large have taken it upon themselves to make this abundantly clear from generation to generation. Over time, though, the message seems to have shifted from “drugs are bad” to “anyone who uses drugs is bad.” This is far from fair. Where does this leave someone who had one lapse of judgment and made one mistake?
Criminalization of Drug Use
Drugs are dangerous, so of course, the people responsible for making, selling and distributing them will be reprimanded for putting others in danger. But the people who use drugs are just as likely to be punished as well. Laws exist to punish both criminal and immoral behavior. So, when illicit drug use became immoral, it quickly became associated with other, more severe forms of criminal behavior. Since then, society has drawn the misguided conclusion that anyone who addicted to drugs is immoral. Does this mean that someone who has a genetic predisposition to drug addiction because of the poor choices their parents made is immoral?
The pen is mightier than the sword for a reason. Stigmatizing language has been a tactic of persuasion and manipulation across history. The words that some people choose to associate with drug addiction will influence how others feel about it. Do you think that someone described as a “substance abuser” will be treated the same way as someone described as having a “substance use disorder”?
The Impacts of Addiction Stigmatization
The stigma surrounding drug addiction does more than discourage addicts from getting help. It can also influence addicts to:
- hide their drug use from their doctors to avoid being shamed
- fall out of touch with their family, friends or community
- develop other mental issues like depression or anxiety
- sustain a huge drop in self-esteem and/or self-worth
- experience overwhelming isolation or loneliness
Ways to Reduce the Stigma
In order to help the people who are suffering and even dying from addiction to drugs, society as a whole must adapt and show more understanding, as we would for any other mental or physical health issue. This includes small acts like:
- correcting and addressing the misconceptions others have about addiction
- offering compassionate support to those seeking recovery and sobriety
- learning more about substance use disorders and what causes them
- sharing and supporting resources for people affected by addiction
- sharing information and evidence-based facts about addiction
- avoiding the perpetuation of harmful language or labels
- treating people suffering from addiction with respect
- supporting the person, not the addiction
Fight the Stigmatization of Drug Addiction with Wellness Retreat
Those who suffer from substance use disorders are far more likely to seek help and get sober when they have support from their peers. At Wellness Retreat Recovery Center, we encourage social inclusion and work to fight against the isolation, discrimination, and prejudice that only strengthens drug dependency. Our patients and their health come first, and we hope that you’ll join us in fighting the stigmatization of drug addiction. Everyone deserves to be happy, healthy and sober. For more information about our programs, please call us at 888-821-0238.