Drug Addiction: Getting Rid of the Stigma

We all have stigmas like drug addiction associated with us. Telling someone your political beliefs can automatically create a stigma. A Southerner who moves to New England will learn first hand the realities of geographical stigmas. Social stigmas include assumptions made based on one’s weight, age or socioeconomic status. And the stigma associated with being known as a drug abuser can be one that is difficult, but not impossible, to overcome.

The Stigma of Drug Addiction

Webster’s dictionary defines stigma as “a mark of shame or discredit.” When used in basic terms a stigma can represent something that is hard to overcome. But when using the word in the context of drug addiction, the word can suggest an almost impossible burden.

Drug addiction carries some of the strongest stigmas there are. Once you hear the phrase, “That person’s probably a drug addict” or hurtful phrases like “a druggie” or “a crackhead” certain images immediately flood our minds, none of them positive. The judgment can be vicious, intense, and debilitating. And it can make those who struggle with addiction simply bury it, hiding it away in the hopes that they’re never found out.

And even the types of treatments can carry their own stigmas. For instance, there are some stigmas around medication-assisted treatment, unfortunately. Yet every person is different, and there is not one recovery type that suits everyone.

The High Personal Cost of Drug Abuse Stigmas

Surprisingly, drug abusers often experience negative attitudes and discrimination from the people closest to them, including their communities, friends, and even their own families. Internally, they may start to believe these stereotypes and negative attitudes about themselves, harming their self-esteem and their chance for recovery.

Additionally, people who struggle with drug addiction face greater stigmas than those with other illnesses. So much in fact that seeking help for their addiction sometimes comes as a last resort. The 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 19.7 million Americans age 12 and older had a substance abuse disorder in the previous year; sadly only 4.1 million received the specialized treatment they needed. Perhaps this is because people don’t generally support insurance, housing, and employment policies that benefit people who are dependent on drugs. But it is possible to combat the stigma of drug addiction. We can show those who carry this stigma that there is help. And there is hope.

Ways to reduce Drug Abuse Stigmas

  • Listen first and withhold judgment.
  • Offer compassionate support.
  • See a person for who they are, not what drugs they use.
  • Learn about drug dependency and understand what someone is going through.
  • Speak up when you see someone mistreated because of their drug dependency.
  • Share your own personal story of stigma you have dealt with.
  • Offer to help find treatment.

If we can all learn to listen and understand the stigmas associated with drug addiction, then we can help those who struggle with this addiction seek treatment and begin to heal. For an addict, stigmas may be hard to overcome. When we do our part to reduce the shame, we free someone to begin their road to recovery.

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