As a society, will we ever be able to separate the words stigma and addiction? Sadly, it seems as if that will never happen. As the opioid epidemic spreads across our country and is affecting our nation’s youth in mass numbers. One would think more people would be willing to educate themselves on how to handle such a devastating problem. Instead, it is just the opposite. The stigma of addiction is only deepening. What can we do to stop the negative stigma of addiction?
If you go to Dictionary.com, stigma is defined as
The problem is that so many people do not view addiction as a sickness. Addiction is seen by many as a flaw in character, a mere defect. People who had never dealt with addiction, simply do not understand it. Why can’t an addict just stop? They did this to themselves. There’s no cure for it because it’s not a disease. The main cause of people viewing addiction in this negative manner is due to nothing more than misinformation, ignorance, and their own racist opinions.
Addiction in America
The most recent article with valid information is from November 2016 so, not even 6 months ago. This information was published by the New York Times from the Surgeon General Dr. Vivek K. Murthy, the article can be found here.
Here is the low down straight from the horse’s mouth. The United State’s Surgeon General reports that one in seven people in the United States will develop a substance disorder. Yet, only one in 10 of those addicts will receive treatment.
The report goes on to say that Americans need to make a drastic change in the way they view and personally feel about addiction. The negative stigma surrounding addiction and how individuals view people with addiction is a major cause for addicts to hide their problem and not seek the treatment that they are in dire need of. Addiction needs to be viewed as a disease of the brain and not as a character flaw. That my friend is the stigma of addiction.
The Effects of Stigma On Addicts
The sad truth is that the stigma greatly affects addicts. Recovering from addiction is not an easy task to being with. I know this from personal experience. Many people do not get the help they need or even admit that they need help.
People do not believe that addicts suffer any emotional or physical pain. Better yet, if an addict does suffer then they deserve to after what they have done. I am not saying the things an addict does is right by any means. It’s not in no way shape or form. There are times that I still cry and pray for forgiveness for the things that I have done or have had the displeasure of witnessing. There is one thing that people need to understand, as Dr. Vivek H. Murthy clearly understands.
I can’t speak for other drug addictions but, as a recovering heroin addict, I know that using heroin changes a person’s brain chemistry. The want and need for the drug overpower any moral or ethic values that an addict has, nothing else matters. Does that make it right? No, not at all. Although, that is why addicts need help and treatment. Some addicts even require mental treatment.
Addicts lose everything. Even though it seems that they willingly give up their lives. That is not the case. When an addict hurts a loved one or themselves, it does affect them. They just keep on using to numb the pain to forget.
That is one reason withdrawal is so horrible. Not only do addicts feel the physical aspects of withdrawal. They also are feeling all the overwhelming emotions of everything they have done and the damage they have caused. It hurts more than people know.
Addicts attempt to hide their disease for as long as possible so they will not be viewed by loved ones and professionals as less than. The stereotype of an addict is a person who is dirty, homeless, and a criminal which is not always the case. At least, not at first. Addiction does not discriminate and society’s view of an addict is mind-boggling.
For example, if a celebrity dies due to a drug overdose, people give empathy and feel compassion for that person. Reporters speak of how the celebrity died too young and had so much to live for, so much to give. Yet, if a homeless man who lives under a bridge passes way from an overdose, it is the complete opposite. Then, it is for the best. Nobody mourns that man’s death. He is even discriminated after his passing. Saying how he brought the tragedy upon himself. How is that fair? Why is the stigma placed on the stereotypical drug addict but not on the celebrity addict?
Addiction is not choosy. Addiction doesn’t say he deserves to die while she will get another chance. That being said, why do Americans feel as if they can discriminate against some addicts? Meanwhile, other people using drugs deserve chance after chance to recover? It is baffling.
How Stigma Directly Affects Addicts
Addiction produces negative consequences, the stigma of addiction generates, even more, negativity. Such negative consequences include the following:
- An addict not getting the treatment that he or she needs.
- An addict is made to feel as if they are less than which may result in self-harm, mental issues, and more.
- Leads to people hiding the disease from others to prevent the stigma from occurring.
- Addicts will be under arrest prior to drug or alcohol treatment when rehabilitation should always come first.
- Medical help is often denied to addicts and even recovering addicts due to their past.
- Mothers with a drug history are often a victim of discrimination. Some states even deny these mothers food stamps and help for their children. Why should the child suffer?
Addicts tend to hide their drug addiction from everyone they can including family, friends, medical professionals, and so on. They are trying to prolong the stigma from directly affecting them.
STOP The Stigma of Addiction
The truth is that unless you have experienced addiction first hand, you will never fully understand the stigma surrounding addiction. While recovering addicts do not endure it as often as those in active addiction. It is still there.
Personally, I could go on and on about all the times I have had to face the stigma in a professional setting. Thankfully, more doctors are starting to educate themselves due to the addiction epidemic in America. Yet, some people are set in their ways and refuse to change their mind.
We as a society must work together and treat the drug problem before it spirals even more out of control. There are community programs that help such as the needle exchange program, and safe houses for drug users but, these programs are a two-way street. Some believe they help addicts while others believe they are only making the problem worse.
Those who are recovering addicts or open-minded need to do what they can to stop the stigma of addiction. Here are some of the ways that we can help break the stigma surrounding addiction.
- Share your stories of stigma to open other people’s eyes to the problems we face.
- Fight for equal drug care for those who want treatment.
- Before making a final opinion, educate yourself on addiction and treatment options.U
- Do not be hurtful or labeling to drug addicts. On the other hand, do not enable them either.
- Stop punishing babies and children for their mother’s past. Read more here.
- Educate people who have a stigma. Addiction is a disease, not a character defect as many believe.
- If you are in recovery, give help to those who need it. For you, understand the difficulty better than anyone.
- For recovering addicts to share their story of success to help others see people can change
We as Americans need to work together to stop the stigma of addiction. It is worse in the United States than in any country in the world. Yet, other countries handle drug addiction differently. Addiction treatment needs to be a part of medical coverage for everyone. Educate yourself before you morally make a decision on an addict.
What people must keep in their mind and hearts is that addiction does not discriminate. It can affect people of every race, lifestyle, religion, gender, and lifestyle. People of all ages can become an addict. We as a society need to work together to stop the stigma and get these people the help that they need. Maybe if the stigma would lessen, more people would actually want the help that they need.