Despite the fact that substance use disorders are, very simply, a chronic medical condition, the stigma that surrounds addiction is powerful and can hinder treatment.
Studies demonstrate that stigma can actually prevent people from understanding how to get better. Stigma can also make it less likely that an addicted person will receive support and encouragement from friends, family, and their community.
Stigma occurs when a collection of negative attitudes and thoughts culminate around a topic, a disease, an identity, a lifestyle, or an orientation. Anything can be stigmatized, and within stigma, stereotypes and discrimination flourish.
What Types of Substance Addiction Stereotypes Exist and Why Are They Harmful?
One of the most widely accepted stigmas about people battling addiction is that they have no willpower. In this overgeneralized, simplified view, people who struggle with substances are seen as consciously choosing drugs over their families, their partners, their jobs, or themselves. Terms like junkie, addict, criminal, low-life, etc., have commonly been attributed to people who slip in and out of substance abuse or struggle with it over the course of their lives.
In general, people who suffer from addiction are often seen as criminals, slackers, or immoral. Women face even more layers of stigma when it comes to addiction. They are seen as being out of control, chaotic, promiscuous, bad mothers, unfeminine, etc.
All of these stereotypes can create intense feelings of shame, disappointment, and anguish in struggling individuals and can keep them from seeking help. The following are just some of the ways that stigma deters people from getting help when they need it most:
- They decide not to seek treatment because they’re too ashamed or feel they’ll face too much backlash from family, friends, employers, and society in general
- Professionals tasked with supporting addiction recovery may feel negatively toward their clients and unconsciously provide inadequate care
- Healthcare entities on a systemic level do not consider recovery essential and actively make it inaccessible or unaffordable
- The psychological stress caused by stigma fuels more substance use, as a way to cope
How Can I Combat Addiction Stigmas?
The most helpful actions you can take to directly challenge and dismantle addiction stigmas are simple and achievable:
- Begin to understand substance use for what it is: a coping mechanism and an often debilitating medical condition
- Avoid using inflammatory, offensive language like addict, drug abuser, druggie, junkie, etc.
- Research and understand that substance addiction affects people of different genders, races, and socioeconomic statuses disproportionately
When you start to broaden your mind, you can create a space for empathy, rationality, and creativity in your approach not only to recovery, but also to mental, physical, and emotional well-being.
What St. Gregory Does to Promote Proactive Concepts of Recovery
At St. Gregory, the idea is not to stigmatize but to strengthen positive self-conceptions of the people in our care. Negativity, blame, demonization: these are all tactics that serve no purpose other than to thwart the recovery process. In lieu of negativity, we opt for uplifting communal support using evidence-based practices such as:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
- Involving family and friends in the recovery process via the Family Program
- Life skills planning programs and coaching
Recovery isn’t about the past; it’s more about embracing your present and taking steps to secure a bright future. Everyone deserves this and everyone is capable of obtaining it.
If you or a loved one are struggling with substance abuse and taking those first initial steps to getting help, you’re not alone. Contact us day or night for answers, support, and information from our dedicated team of healthcare professionals, counselors, and health and wellness advocates. While stigma and stereotypes exist, we’re ready to help you tear down any obstacle preventing you from being the best version of yourself.