Stigma of Addiction

Take Pride in Your Recovery

Overcoming Shame Is Part of Overcoming Addiction

Defining the Stigma of Addiction

Webster’s dictionary defines stigma as a mark of shame or discredit. Addictions are typically attached to a feeling of shame or criticism, a sense of eternal judgment by a label. Society frequently perceives drug and alcohol addiction as a matter of morals, ethics, and criminality instead of a health problem. Even people who have been in recovery for years face the stereotype that they are somehow lower-class citizens.

The National Institute of Health (NIH) states the stigma of mental and substance use disorders as complicated attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, and structures that interact as individuals, groups, organizations, and systems that develop into discriminatory thoughts and acts. The NIH recognizes three different types of stigma: structural, public and self.

  • Structural stigma – The prejudice and discrimination in public and private institutions, government and legal systems, employers, educational institutions, health care systems, the criminal justice system, and the courts. Structural and public stigma interrelate because public stigma continues due to structural stigma in laws, regulations, and policies that support these prejudices and discriminations.
  • Public stigma – The general public’s negative opinions and the predetermined judgments of specific subgroups, such as first responders, judges, and police.
  • Self-Stigma – The discriminating methods associated with public stigma become unmistakable to people with substance use disorders, and they manifest this offensive stigma, wielding it upon themselves. Internalization of negative perceptions is predominant in self-stigmatization.

The Stigma of Addiction and Mental Illness

A 2013 national public opinion survey from Growth from Knowledge (Gfk), one of the world’s largest market research institutes, demonstrated that Americans hold significantly more negative attitudes toward individuals with drug addictions than those with mental illness. Although there is a want for social distancing from both groups, more respondents were against having an individual with drug addiction marry into their family or work closely with them on a job compared with an individual with mental illness.

The Stigma of Recovery

Many studies have shown a strong correlation between a person experiencing the stigmas of addiction and their recovery. The research demonstrates how large of a role stigma plays in addiction, treatment, and after rehabilitation. Individuals continue to face negative views and harsh judgments beyond treatment and isolate themselves as when they were using, intensifying their relapse chances. If relapse does happen, it’s as if that attempt at recovery never happened. Perhaps they lose everything, all their progress, and disappoint people. So what? Why try? They are returning to what society perceives of them, sober or not.
Addiction treatment facilities that focus on incorporating the stigma of addiction in their treatment effectively build lasting peace of mind. Northridge Addiction Treatment Center recognizes the enduring effect of stigma on a person’s rehabilitation, and we commit to challenging that stigma. NATC strives to establish a healthy groundwork that leaves one equipped to overcome and reject derogatory labels and stereotypes.

How Does Society View Recovering Addicts?

The word “addict” accompanies so many negative inclinations, and often addiction is perceived as a devious or criminal matter. Studies have shown that levels of stigma depend on the level of intimacy. Social rejection is more probable when there is less distance in the societal relationship.

Many studies indicate stigma is higher for people with substance use disorder than other conditions. The societal view of addiction is neither accurate nor fair; nevertheless, discrimination against recovering addicts lingers. However, many negative symptoms that cause stigmatization associated with addiction usually decrease or disappear when properly managed and treated.

What Are Addiction Stereotypes?

The act of stereotyping is giving oversimplified attributions of an image or idea to a group, individual, or thing. Almost any group or individual can be stereotyped, but few stereotypes are widely accepted as admirable. The stereotype of “addict” can be understood just as a stereotype is defined, a simplified generalization. Public stigmatization created the negative stereotype linked to addiction, but only addicts and recovering addicts know and feel its dangers.

Addiction Stigma Quotes

“I look at my arms, and I think God, who wants to go out with that? Heroin doesn’t leave those kind of marks, that’s ice. But that affects me, do you know what I mean? Like I can’t wear short tops, I can’t, just can’t be a normal person anymore.” —Isobel*

“Sometimes I go outside, and I really feel hated… I thought it must be how I dress or [the] expression on my face or something. You just constantly feel like you’ve got a big neon sign on your head saying ‘loser,’ you know, ‘contemptible loser.’ So when someone actually in a shop or something they’ll actually smile at you or act like you’re a normal being, human being, it’s really restorative, it cheers me up for days.” —Lachlan*

“At the end of the day, you’ve got to be happy with yourself, and I’m not happy with myself, I don’t look in the mirror and say I love myself, I don’t even like myself, I self-loathe myself, I hate myself, I hate what I’ve done to myself and done to others by doing it to myself.” —Tim*

*(U.S. National Institute of Health – National Library of Medicine Journal Literature – Stigma and Self-Stigma in Addiction)

Addiction Stigma Examples

  • If you have ever turned down a drink at a social gathering and everyone immediately asked if anything was wrong
  • If you have ever been asked, “Why aren’t you drinking tonight?” at a social gathering for whatever reason, and you were afraid to answer because you felt somebody might judge you

These are some examples of situations of the stigma of addiction. While these circumstances might not stand out in your mind if you don’t have a substance use disorder, this scenario is an enormous obstacle to someone struggling with alcoholism.

What Are the Consequences of Addiction Stigma?

The most alarming consequence of addiction stigma is the discouraging effect it has on individuals to seek treatment. The social stigma of addiction is a primary reason for prevention in effective addiction recovery. Stigma makes an individual trying to overcome their substance use feel undervalued by lowering their self-esteem and self-efficacy. Even in the case of an individual unmistakably struggling with an alcohol or drug addiction, seeking treatment is often avoided to escape acknowledgment. The feelings of personal shame, embarrassment, and public judgment can perpetuate denial and become psychologically harmful. Research has shown that public stigma leads to social isolation and decreased self-confidence in people struggling with addiction.

How Do You Break the Stigma of Addiction?

Reducing the stigma of addiction can be done effectively in several ways. Strategies, such as education and advocacy, are intended to change the legislative processes that preserve addiction stigma by supporting discrimination against people with substance use disorders. The ideal candidates for these strategies to overcome addiction stigma are the general public, landlords, employers, health care providers, and groups inside the criminal justice system. This much-needed education on stigma changes the thoughts and behaviors from prejudice, disregard, and fear to offering support. Educating the general public and predominating groups in society about substance use disorders and treatment will dissolve misconceptions regarding addiction and help people come together to advocate against discrimination. When people realize addiction can affect people of any age or social status, we can take the first step to stop addiction stigma.

Don’t Let Addiction be the Family Secret

The stigma of addiction can be deadly. Don’t leave substance abuse undiagnosed and untreated. Contact us to speak with a treatment specialist about taking the first step to overcome shame and move toward recovery. Break the stigma of addiction today.

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