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The stigma of alcohol and drug addiction and its consequences

By Tim Woodley

What does addiction mean to you? What do you think of when you hear the word? For most adults, addiction is something of a dirty word that is loaded with implications we’ve learned from our culture as we grow into adults.

This view we’re given can be problematic for people needing help with problematic substance misuse, and today we’re talking about why.

 

What exactly is stigma?

Simply put, stigmas are negative views that are common to any society. It’s similar to a mark placed upon a person that labels them as a problematic or dangerous individual. For the person carrying the stigma, these views can lead to feelings of hopelessness, fear and anger at being judged.

The stigma of addiction is profoundly negative to those experiencing it. A 2014 study polling Americans on addiction found 64% of respondents to believe employers should be able to deny employment to a person affected by addiction.

Those suffering from addiction in any form are unfairly labelled as weaker or foolish for having fallen into addiction – two entirely incorrect views that are damaging to society and those within it. Consider mental health; while stigmas still exist, it’s increasingly common for people to talk more openly about issues such as depression without feeling judged unfairly. Addiction, by comparison, still brings with it negative assumptions about the afflicted person.


Why this is a problem

Stigmas are preconceived notions about a person or thing, meaning they’re applied to a person before ever actually engaging with and understanding them. While it’s somewhat normal for us to do this, it’s a serious issue for any person who needs alcohol and drug treatment and recovery. For someone experiencing problematic alcohol and drug use, the stigma of addiction can make them extremely reluctant to consider and ultimately pursue treatment and recovery.

Worse still, the stigma of addiction often affects the behaviour of those close to the people suffering from substance misuse. While it’s true that a person with problematic drug and alcohol use can be destructive to their lives and the lives of those close to them, the stigma of addiction can make family members and loved ones cold and distant at a time when they are needed most.


How to overcome the stigma of addiction

First, it’s important you don’t judge yourself harshly for feeling the stigma of addiction. The journey of recovery is far from easy, and it can sometimes feel you have to be your strongest when you feel your weakest. Being compassionate towards yourself is important in helping you to overcome feelings of anger and frustration.

Framing stigma is helpful in overcoming it. In the case of addiction, it’s useful to regularly remind yourself that the negative judgements made are not a reflection of you, but of society. Stigmas are unfounded assumptions – something that has no basis in your life and reality. Understanding this point won’t make the stigma go away, but it will help you separate yourself from it mentally. By doing this, you can learn to withstand unfair judgements about you.

Lastly, we encourage you to educate yourself on addiction. This is an important aspect of any recovery programme! Google is great, but we have a team of experienced addiction experts who are happy to take your call or email, or you can make an appointment to come in for a chat at no cost.

Research tells us that addiction as a chronic disease that changes both brain structure and function. Just as diabetes impairs the pancreas, addiction hijacks the brain. This happens as the brain goes through a series of changes, beginning with recognition of pleasure and ending with a drive toward compulsive behaviours. Addiction is a common disease, and it doesn’t discriminate against age, gender, ethnicity, social class or wealth.


We’re here to talk

We’d like you to know that you can always speak to the Help Me Stop team at no obligation whatsoever. If you’d simply like an experienced and understanding ear, we’re right here by phone or email to listen. We’re also available on Live Chat via our website until 9pm in the week and 3pm at weekends.

You can reach a member of the team by phone at 0208 191 8920. If you’d rather get in touch via email, you can instead use our contact form to send your details.


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