Despite the common medical definition of addiction as a disease of the brain, it is frequently not treated as a disease. Instead, emphasis is often placed on the individual’s perceived lack of willpower, moral character, or judgement, rather than on the physical changes to the brain caused by addiction and their powerful effects on behavior. Dehumanizing insults are common, along with the perception that people who struggle with substance abuse and addiction are “lost causes.” These are a few examples of the stigma around drug addiction and how it presents barriers to recovery.
Common Stigmas Against Drug Users
Various surveys and studies have found deep negative stigmas attached to substance abuse. Compared to individuals suffering from mental illness, those addicted to drugs are deemed more “blameworthy and dangerous.”1 Another study found people were “more willing to accept discriminatory practices against persons with drug addiction, more skeptical about the effectiveness of treatments, and more likely to oppose policies aimed at helping them.” 2
Stigma in Addiction Treatment and Healthcare
Even healthcare professionals may demonstrate stigma against patients with substance abuse issues. One broad survey found that healthcare professionals were likely to view such individuals as manipulative, violent, or unmotivated to change. This made patients feel disempowered and negatively impacted healthcare outcomes. The study pointed to the need for more education and support structures for medical professionals to work with this group.3
Stigma and Barriers to Seeking Treatment
Such stigmas have a human cost. Numerous studies have found a “strong and enduring effect of stigma on well-being,” pointing to the mental and emotional toll these perceptions can have on individuals suffering from substance abuse.4 In their “Anti Stigma Toolkit: A Guide to Reducing Addiction-Related Stigma,” the authors identify multiple ways stigma around addiction prevents people from seeking recovery. Because addiction is so stigmatized, many users are reluctant to admit they have a problem in the first place. This often leads to keeping these problems from others who could help. Stigma makes many too afraid to seek treatment because they fear they will be judged by friends, family, coworkers, and even medical professionals, or that their diagnosis will “get out” and be used against them. Stigma against drug users held by the general public causes a lack of funding for treatment efforts that can help, as it is much easier to justify not helping someone if one is convinced their issues are their own fault.5 Stigma-related barriers to recovery also include “disheveled relationships, an incapacity to trust others, and lowered self-esteem”.6
The Importance of Seeking Treatment
Despite the stigmas surrounding addiction, getting treatment is critical. Seeking out care can take a great deal of courage, but it is a vital first step towards beating addiction once and for all. A quality substance abuse treatment center will be staffed by medical professionals who are aware of the social consequences of addiction and are caring, open-minded, and solution – oriented – not judgmental. Our staff at Granite Recovery Centers in New Hampshire recognizes that addiction is a disease, not a character flaw. We will help you or your loved one overcome addition and build the confidence, self-esteem, and skills necessary to recover from addiction and live a better life. Granite Recovery Centers can be reached at 603-339-4160.
1 http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1468017308101818 2 https://ps.psychiatryonline.org/doi/abs/10.1176/appi.ps.201400140 3 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0376871613000677 4 https://www.jstor.org/stable/2955424?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents 5 http://attcnetwork.org/regcenters/productDocs/2/Anti-Stigma%20Toolkit.pdf 6 https://digitalcommons.brockport.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1166&context=edc_theses