Addiction Recovery

Addiction Stigma: Perceptions Are Changing; It’s Getting Easier to Overcome Drug Addiction Stigma

How Addiction Stigma is Changing

Addiction stigma can be a massive barrier to getting people the help we need. Fortunately, the times are changing. Learn more in our blog.

Written by

brian-mooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

jeremy-arztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

Addiction Recovery

November 2, 2023

The statistics for people suffering from substance use disorders and those who actually receive treatment clearly suggest that help is not reaching all those who need it desperately.

Despite the large-scale damage of drug addiction across the nation being broadcasted and discussed in mainstream media, drug addiction and seeking treatment for it still seems to suffer from a stigma. There has been a shocking rise in drug overdose deaths in the US from 1999 to 2020, where nearly 800,000 people lost their lives to drug overdosing.

Despite the increasing support provided by the federal and state governments to identify, diagnose, and treat drug addiction, many people are still hesitant to get treated. Some people are ready to live with the nuisance of substance use disorder rather than seek professional treatment.

Reducing the stigma associated with drug addiction is vital to ensure that more people with addiction seek timely help rather than ending up in critical care units at a nearby hospital, falling prey to overdoses that often turn fatal.

What Is an Addiction Stigma?

The stigma related to drug addiction, or any personal choice is essentially a flawed perception problem in our society. It is native to nearly every region and community in the US and worldwide. Drug addiction stigma has turned into a significant barrier to accepting or acknowledging an addiction and getting treatment for it.

The word “stigma” has Latin origins, referring to a burn-like mark, and when inflicted on another person, it signifies bringing disgrace to someone. In the contemporary world, stigma in society is more about stereotyping someone. When people choose specific words to label an individual, it amounts to discrimination.

Sometimes, stigma is not just about using disparaging words. Often, words borrowed from a medical dictionary can also be discriminatory—it depends on how some words or phrases are used and the intention behind using such a language.

Stigma related to seeking treatment for drug addiction can be persistent. People tend to label others, and such words represent despise and hatred. Once subjected to such a stigma, the person can feel alienated and isolated from the rest of society. This can bring about feelings of shame and hopelessness in the affected individual.

People subjected to such stigma tend to become more reluctant about sharing their addiction-related struggles. They may not seek treatment, fearing a backlash from friends, family members, or people at the workplace. This stigma is rooted in a belief that addiction represents a failure of character, a lack of willpower, and a moral failing.

Stigma can be as damaging as a stressor that affects the overall well-being of someone. In people with substance use disorder, stigma is a documented barrier to seeking quality care. It might even show up in clinical settings where someone with an addiction might feel labeled and not treated on par with other people seeking medical care.

Stigma can exist within the family as parents, guardians, or even siblings can judge and label someone with a history of drug abuse. Despite living at home with family, a person can feel let down by the lack of support from loved ones.

CTA background

We’re Here to Help You Find Your Way

Would you like more information about addiction stigma? Reach out today.

Some words can subtly or directly make a person feel targeted. Addiction stigma is a perfect example of this. Calling someone an “addict” can instantly make the person feel ashamed.

To combat the stigma associated with addiction or treatment for substance use disorder, identifying such words and refraining from using them is crucial. This is perhaps the most unacknowledged part of the battle against addiction: people are less likely to seek treatment at a nearby detox center or rehab facility if they continue to suffer from the stigma associated with addiction.

Simple changes in people’s behaviors, such as using person-first words, can help to control the stigma. The idea is to focus on the person’s personality and use words that identify with the person rather than words that focus on a health problem—an addiction is just another chronic disease, and people shouldn't be addressed in a way that highlights the addiction. Using words like “substance user” tends to worsen the stigma rather than using a phrase like “person with an addiction problem."

Understanding the stigmatizing language and refraining from using it can help limit the psychological damage associated with long-term addiction.

Addiction Stigma: Understanding More About Dangers of Drug Addiction Stigma

The stigma of addiction is not just about creating a hindrance to seeking treatment. Sometimes, the consequences of drug addiction stigma can turn more serious. People suffering from substance use disorder battling stigma can develop a highly negative mindset, which can complicate the symptoms already associated with an addiction, such as depression or anxiety.

As these psychological symptoms worsen, the person can become susceptible to self-harm or develop a violent streak. In the worst-case scenarios, such people might develop suicidal tendencies as these symptoms can quickly become a mental health threat, like generalized anxiety disorder or panic attacks.

Feeling stigmatized can even happen in environments that have been created specifically to help people with substance abuse disorders. Self-help groups and community healthcare groups for mental wellness often find participants struggling with mental health issues due to an addiction. However, there can be a stigma against people with mental illness related to substance misuse.

This type of patient stigmatizing can happen in a very silent but destructive manner. As the person feels more stigmatized, it can further negatively impact the willingness to change or seek relevant care—keeping the person away from a rehab center. People with a mental illness, along with a SUD, can develop self-stigma symptoms.

This means the stigma is overwhelming a person’s feeling of self-worth or self-esteem, taking a toll on the resolve to overcome the addiction, and pushing a person towards a lifetime of addiction and mental health issues.

CTA background

We’re Here to Help You Find Your Way

Do you have more questions about addiction stigma? Reach out.

Addiction Stigma: How Greater Understanding of Addiction Can Defeat Addiction Stigma

Lately, the dynamics of addiction stigma are changing as more people are coming out in the open to discuss their struggles with fighting an addiction. People increasingly acknowledge that addiction is like any other disease that needs medical treatment. This change in perception is underway, with counselors and rehab specialists collaborating with community health groups playing a significant role in bringing about this transformation.

Some key ideas that such professionals share with a person battling addiction and the stigma that comes with it include:

Allowing Others to See Your Problem

Fighting the stigma of addiction and fighting addiction starts with acknowledging the problem. However, when someone feels stigmatized, it quickly turns into feeling ashamed rather than introspection, which is vital to kickstart rehab or an addiction treatment program. People dealing with stigma are often told not to hide their problems. They are encouraged to assess their social group and the type of friendships they have cultivated.

The emphasis is finding a space to talk about addiction without feeling targeted or fearing being labeled. This is about a process that cannot be done overnight. It takes time to identify and move away from judgmental, negative people and find new opportunities to talk about addiction. The positive reinforcement that comes from an accepting, sympathetic social group can really help. More virtual and in-person support groups have come up to make this easier for those seeking help, where the person can be surrounded by like-minded people who might share recovery goals.

Still, it is about making the tough choices and choosing such forums over friends who judge and are detrimental to defeating addiction.

Understanding that Stigmas Don’t Represent Everyone 

Stigmas like these don't represent society at large. People fearing backlash from friends and family often don't realize that the stigma associated with addiction is not the norm in every household or group of friends. Plenty of people can respect the resolve to change that it is necessary to complete rehab and restart an addiction-free life. While loved ones might not support this journey, many people can appreciate the courage to seek rehab and change for the better.

Anybody who wants to understand the science of why addiction is a disease that needs to be treated can visit online resources such as those provided by SAMHSA.

Addiction Stigma: How You Can Fight Addiction Stigma

Be careful about the choice of words. Whether it is talking in a group or sharing opinions on a social media platform, refrain from words that tend to label people. Calling someone an “alcoholic” or an “abuser” means stereotyping. 

Try to spread the word about addiction being a disease with physical and psychological symptoms. People need to know that addiction is often the result of mental health challenges, past trauma, or merely a means of coping with different stressors. 

Don't blame addiction on a person as a genetic or family problem. This can make the person feel helpless about the addiction, even making the person believe that it might be impossible to treat since it is genetic.

If you spot someone feeling emotionally traumatized by addiction stigma, try to make the person speak with a counselor at a nearby addiction center or community program that can help to dispel the notion that everyone looks down upon people diagnosed with drug addiction or alcoholism.

Spreading awareness about events like National Recovery Month, which is held every September, helps make more people aware of evidence-based treatments and addiction recovery, along with highlighting the role of service providers and communities that make addiction recovery possible. A SAMHSA event, Recovery Month, increases awareness about addiction-related mental health issues. 

Educate yourself about why an addiction needs to be treated like a chronic illness by bookmarking sources of information like the Partnership to End Addiction.

Lastly, you can play an active role in helping people with addiction seek timely treatment by recommending good rehab centers that offer a combination of behavioral therapies along with clinical expertise to treat the physical and psychological symptoms associated with substance abuse.

CTA background

We’re Here to Help You Find Your Way

Do you need advice about addiction stigma? Reach out today.

The Edge Treatment Center: Effective, Evidence-Based Care for Addiction & More

Our mission at The Edge Treatment Center is to provide effective, evidence-based care for individuals struggling with addiction and other related disorders. We believe that everyone deserves the opportunity to heal and recover from their struggles, without facing judgment or stigma.

Unfortunately, the stigma surrounding addiction often prevents individuals from seeking help and receiving the treatment they need. This can be due to societal perceptions of addiction as a moral failing or lack of willpower, rather than recognizing it as a complex medical condition.

At The Edge Treatment Center, we strive to break down the barriers and stigma associated with addiction. We understand that addiction is not a choice, but a chronic brain disease that requires specialized care and support for recovery. Our team of experienced professionals provides evidence-based treatment approaches, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and medication-assisted treatment, to address the physical, psychological, and behavioral aspects of addiction.

We also recognize that individuals struggling with addiction may have co-occurring mental health disorders, such as anxiety or depression. That is why we offer integrated dual-diagnosis treatment to address both conditions simultaneously.

By addressing underlying issues and providing a comprehensive approach to care, we can help individuals achieve lasting recovery and improve their overall well-being. Reach out to The Edge Treatment Center today to learn more.

CTA background

We’re Here to Help You Find Your Way

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, there is hope. Our team can guide you on your journey to recovery. Call us today.