While cultural awareness around substance and alcohol use disorder have improved in recent years, there is still a substantial amount of stigma surrounding these topics. Despite well-established research identifying addiction as a disease, some still see it as a moral failing instead.
The negative attitudes and stereotypes that stem from this belief create barriers to treatment and cause substance use disorders to worsen. By sharing recovery stories and creating environments that are supportive and understanding towards people struggling with addiction, recovery can become more accessible.
Why is Addiction Stigmatized?
One of the main reasons substance use carries a stigma is because of its perceived criminality. Substance use is associated with unlawful behavior and therefore seen as immoral. This viewpoint perpetuates stereotypes and further marginalizes already disadvantaged groups. Terms like “addict” and “junkie” illustrate the hostile stance taken against those struggling with addiction.
Substance use is also stigmatized in relation to health. People who use substances are sometimes associated with diseases and health conditions such as hepatitis. Organizations like the Red Cross do not allow individuals who have used substances intravenously at any point in their life to donate blood.
Where Stigma Surfaces
The stigmatization of substance use is often seen within families. Sometimes families don’t know how to respond to a family member’s substance or alcohol use. Instead of helping their loved one seek treatment or find recovery resources, they collectively ignore the issue. But this only perpetuates the addiction, causing family members to believe that substance use is something to be ashamed of, something that shouldn’t be discussed.
The stigma surrounding substance use can also be observed at school and in the workplace. Students and employees struggling with substances become afraid to seek treatment, fearing it will damage their educational or occupational standing. Unwilling to risk their reputation or career, these individuals suppress the issue, worsening and prolonging their substance use.
How Ending Stigma Creates Recovery Opportunities
When addiction and treatment are less stigmatized, there are fewer barriers to recovery. People carry less shame and fear about how people will respond to their substance use, making them more comfortable seeking help.
How can people reduce or end the stigma? Spreading awareness that addiction is a disease and normalizing recovery will help remove the barriers that block people from finding recovery. This is best accomplished by having conversations and encouraging more people to share their recovery story. When more people speak out about their experience with addiction and recovery, awareness spreads and these topics become less of a taboo—stereotypes, prejudice and harmful words are replaced with understanding and connection.
Sharing recovery stories informs the greater public that addiction is not a shortcoming and that it could happen to anyone. In addition, it inspires those who are still struggling by showing them that recovery is possible.
If you’re interested in sharing your recovery story to show others they are not alone, you can do so here.
If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol addiction or substance use disorder, call Spectrum Health Systems today at 1-877-MyRehab.