Addiction can conjure up numerous images. People may picture an individual who binges on drinks on weekends and skips family commitments. Others may picture a homeless man who has been addicted to drugs and can’t seem to get on his feet no matter how many resources are offered. Some may imagine an uneducated woman who uses more and more prescription drugs to avoid emotional pain.
Addiction can bring up various images, but the stigma surrounding addiction is deeply ingrained in our culture. Science has proven that addiction is a chronic and relapsing condition, but many still cling to the dominant perspective from decades ago: that substance use is a moral failure.
In this article, we’ll explore some of the common stigmas of addiction and offer tools for addressing the stigma around addiction in your personal wrestling and in difficult situations with others.
Common stigmas of addiction
Stigma is defined as a mark of disgrace associated with a certain circumstance or condition. The stigma that is associated with drug and alcohol abuse is largely negative and is often framed in stereotypes of a low-income, uneducated person from an urban area.
Stigma can be communicated in many ways and can occur whether someone knows addiction is present or not. If you are upper class and have a successful career, it’s likely to be assumed that you do not struggle with the temptation to drink heavily or use drugs. Likewise, a person who lives below the poverty line and struggles to maintain a job may be dismissed as an addict when other variables are the true source of the distress (such as mental illness).
Once a person is discovered to struggle with addiction, further assumptions are made. One is assumed to have a weak will or lack the strength of character to overcome cravings. In reality, any person can develop an addiction regardless of income level, education, personal character or moral beliefs. While this fact is clear, stigma still remains in our modern society.
Addressing the stigma around addiction
Addressing stigma is a unique challenge because the source of shame comes from many different angles. First, expectations can come from oneself. Many people experience pressure from themselves and guilt that makes setbacks in recovery (or even attending recovery) a major obstacle. For example, a person who relapses may feel too far gone for help.
The stigma around addiction is also external. It can stem from family, friends, neighbors, coworkers and others. Many cultures connect drugs and alcohol, addiction and even receiving treatment for addiction as dishonorable. Men may also face obstacles to treatment as it’s deemed “unmasculine” by some.
Tips for coping with the stigma of addiction
Coping with the stigma of addiction is part of the battle for sobriety. While some may experience openness from loved ones and find healing from shame early on, others will struggle to overcome others’ opinions and their own self-perception, possibly interfering with success in recovery.
Here’s how to handle the stigma of addiction:
1. Don’t measure your need for treatment by your functioning
Stigma is one of the last barriers to someone attending treatment. Even if you can function in your daily life (sometimes called a ‘functioning alcoholic’ or ‘functioning addict’), that doesn’t mean substance use habits aren’t causing serious damage in your relationships, work and daily life.
2. Even legal substances can be bad
There’s a stereotype that a person is fine as long as he isn’t using illicit substances. The reality is that many legal substances (such as alcohol and marijuana where it is legalized recreationally) and prescription substances can still devastate a person’s life.
3. Understand the science of addiction
Initial use of a drug may be voluntary but rarely do those who struggle with substance use ever intend to develop a dependence on a substance. Once a tolerance and dependence to a drug or alcohol are present, a person can rarely control continued use without professional intervention through detox, therapy and medication.
4. Handle comments calmly
You may encounter people who vocalize their opinions about addiction, treatment and potential relapses. While these comments can be aggravating at the least and triggering at the worst, learning how to manage these comments is key to overcoming them. Aim to dismiss unconstructive comments, especially from those you do not know well, trust or value their advice in general.
5. Don’t wait to hit rock bottom
Struggling with an addiction will escalate if left unchecked and untreated. Hitting rock bottom is inevitable with a substance use disorder, but many people feel they’re able to continue substance use until it gets to a certain point. Accepting the need for treatment now is the best thing you can do for yourself.
Facing the stigma around addiction
It can be difficult to face the negative stigmas surrounding addiction and decide to pursue treatment anyway. If you believe that you or someone you know struggles with substance use, Silvermist may be the right addiction treatment match. To learn more, contact us today.