There are many obstacles to overcoming alcoholism and addiction, and one of these challenges is stigma. Substance abuse stigma keeps those with addiction in fear and can prevent them from seeking help. It can also prevent individuals from getting the full support they deserve and need. At Gateway Foundation, we are strong advocates for the destigmatization of drug and alcohol addiction.
What Is the Stigma of Drug Addiction and Alcoholism?
Drug addiction stigma refers to inaccurate and damaging assumptions and stereotypes about people with addiction:
- The use of specific words: People sometimes use hurtful or derogatory words to talk about someone’s addiction. Even seemingly innocuous phrases such as “getting clean” can subtly suggest someone with an addiction is somehow “unclean.”
- Assumptions about the flaws of people who struggle with addiction: In reality, people with addictions are just like anyone else. They have strengths and weaknesses and their weaknesses are not necessarily larger or more numerous than those of any other person.
- Associations of lifestyles and addiction: Those with addictions come from all communities and backgrounds, including the wealthy and those with higher educations.
- Flawed reasoning about choices: People do not choose addiction. Alcohol and drugs can alter brain chemistry and impact the pleasure center of the brain, making addiction a disease and not a choice.
How Can We Combat the Stigma?
Destigmatizing substance abuse is everyone’s responsibility. When we fight drug addiction stigma together, we make it easier for those who need help to get it. We also help encourage kindness and compassion instead of judgment. In fighting stigma, there are many things we can do:
- We can understand the scientific facts: The stigma of alcoholism and drug addiction often stems from the mistaken belief that addiction is a choice. In fact, scientific studies have been consistent in demonstrating that it is a disease. Treating addiction as a disease paves the way for a science-backed approach to recovery, complete with medication-assisted treatment when needed.
- We can learn to tell the difference between destigmatizing and enabling: People living with addiction can take responsibility for their actions without being made to feel bad about their condition.
- We can leave behind old ideas about preventing addiction: Past educational campaigns have focused on the concept of “just say no.” While this was meant to help, it inadvertently added to the stigma of drug addiction by suggesting it is a choice. We can learn to recognize that addiction is actually far more complex and often caused by many reasons. For example, today’s elevated number of opioid addiction cases did not begin with conscious decisions, but with doctors prescribing medication they had been told was safe and effective.
- We can support loved ones: Loved ones living with addiction are still people who deserve our love and support. While working on healthy boundaries, we can provide them with support and kindness and cheer them on when they seek help.
If you are living with addiction or know someone who is, there is judgment-free help available. Gateway Foundation has been providing compassionate and supportive science-based treatment in Illinois for more than 50 years. You can contact Gateway Foundation or call us at 877.381.6538 to find out more about our personalized treatments.