Most people are aware of the stigma that is attached to addiction. You have probably heard someone use the terms “junkie” or “crackhead” when referring to an individual who suffers from a substance use disorder. These are just small examples of how the stigma of addiction affects the way society thinks about and refers to people who struggle with addiction.
Addiction stigma stems from a misconception that addiction or alcoholism is a moral failing. Society as a whole tends to stigmatize any behavior that is considered to be out of the norm or less than desirable, which includes substance abuse, addiction, and mental health. While substance abuse should never be praised, looking at addiction as a “moral failing” makes it extremely difficult for people to feel comfortable in asking for help or even believing that they can get sober in the first place.
If you are afraid to seek help for your addiction out of fear of being stigmatized, understanding how to debunk and overcome the stigma of addiction can allow you to seek the help you need.
Understanding the Stigma of Addiction
People who suffer from addiction often deal with strong feelings of guilt and shame. This is because of the stigma that has been attached to addiction. More often than not, people who perpetuate the stigma of addiction are uneducated on substance use disorders in general.
The most common misconceptions about addiction are that individuals who abuse substances have made poor personal choices, have bad morals, and have a defect of character. While substance abuse is an unhealthy coping mechanism, it does not make you a bad person. Addiction is a chronic and progressive disease that affects the way your brain works, causing you to prioritize substances over other responsibilities in your life.
Most people who suffer from addiction have a history of trauma, untreated mental illness, or genetic predispositions that made them more susceptible to addictive behaviors. In other words, addiction usually stems from experiencing adversity and not having the proper tools to overcome it.
Once addiction begins developing, changes occur in the body and the brain that make it nearly impossible to stop using drugs without professional help–even when people truly want to get sober. As a result, people with addiction should be treated like someone who is struggling with a treatable disease, rather than an individual with poor morals.
Overcoming the Addiction Stigma
Suffering from a substance use disorder is never easy. Addiction can cause behavioral changes, social isolation, poverty, increased mental health issues, and the development of physical health conditions. Professional treatment is necessary to restore your health, learn proper coping mechanisms, and improve your overall quality of life.
Unfortunately, the stigma that is attached to addiction often prevents people from seeking the help they need. If you are afraid to attend drug and alcohol rehab because you are worried about facing judgment, learning about how to overcome stigma can make it easier to ask for help.
The best ways to overcome addiction stigma include:
Educating Yourself and Others
The first thing you should do is become educated on the disease of addiction and educate your friends and family as well.
Addiction changes the way your brain works by rewiring the structure. When you abuse drugs or alcohol, the substances hack into your brain’s communication system and interfere with how cells send, receive, and interpret information. Substances cause your brain to release a surge of dopamine, which causes it to associate drugs with reward and pleasure.
Because your brain believes that reward and pleasure stem from substance abuse, it will begin craving substances, causing you to prioritize drugs and alcohol over everything else in your life. If people understood how addiction affects the brain, they wouldn’t be able to perpetuate the misconception that substance abuse is a moral failing.
Finding a Community
Another way to overcome the stigma of addiction is to find a community of like-minded people. There are plenty of addiction support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) that can provide you with a safe space to discuss your addiction and recovery with others who have been in the same position as you. Seeing these people experience success and happiness in sobriety can help you understand that addiction is a disease, rather than a defect of character.
You can also find a community within a drug and alcohol rehab program. When you attend addiction treatment, you will live with other patients who are recovering from substance abuse as well. Being around individuals who are in the same position as you will help you feel less alone or alienated.
Speaking Out Against the Stigma
Once you are recovered from addiction, you can begin to help fight the stigma. By telling your story to others, people can begin to understand that the individuals suffering from addiction are not immoral or wrong. Showing them that people can recover from addiction and live successful, happy lives will begin to normalize addiction as a disease, rather than a moral failing.
If any of your friends or loved ones believe the stigmas about addiction, you can provide them with information and knowledge on the disease. Oftentimes, people are just uneducated about how substance use disorders work, causing them to believe the misconceptions they hear.
Take the First Step Toward Recovery Today
If you or a loved one suffer from addiction, help is available. Living with a substance use disorder can be extremely difficult, causing a variety of adverse social, financial, and health effects, but drug and alcohol rehab centers can provide you with the support and tools you need to overcome addiction and live the life you imagined.
Woburn Wellness Addiction Treatment offers services corresponding to Levels of Treatment as defined by the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM). ASAM Criteria are used to assist in placing individuals in the proper level of care at intake and to shift treatment per individual progress. The addiction treatment programs we provide at our treatment center near Boston, Massachusetts include Day Treatment, Intensive Outpatient (IOP), and Outpatient (OP) program options.
Don’t let stigma stop you from getting the help you deserve. Call today to find the right drug and alcohol rehab program for you.