The social stigma of addiction

The social stigma surrounding substance use disorders is that addiction is a choice, a character flaw, and a lack of integrity. More on this stigma and how you can change it here.

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Social stigmas are society’s way of placing judgment on a person or situation. Often times social stigmas are beliefs from long ago that, even though they have been proven wrong, continue to exist.

Today, the social stigma of addiction to drugs and alcohol still exists in the face of scientific evidence that addiction is a brain disease.  People believe that addiction is voluntary, a moral or ethical weakness of will. More here on the social stigma of substance abuse disorders here, with a section at the end for your comments or questions.

Addiction’s Social Stigma

stig*ma – A mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.

The stigma of addiction exists. Often, stigmatizing addiction resents itself somewhat in the form of bullying. People with addictions are treated less favorably by employers, insurance companies, co-workers, family members, neighbors, and friends. Thus, those suffering with an addiction attempt to hide their malady to save their job and the medical benefits it provides, save face with their family and society, and keep their family intact if children are involved. At the risk of losing children due to the misunderstanding of addiction, people opt out of treatment.

Yet the social stigma still stands; that addiction is a choice, a character flaw, and a lack of integrity. Insurance companies use this stigma as justification to refuse coverage for alcohol or drug addiction treatment and rehabilitation, and to establish higher deductibles and co-pays than they do for other diseases.

Jobs are lost at companies who adopt this same, age-old social stigma; thinking termination is the more cost-effective and easier path to take than offering to help an addicted employee seek rehabilitation. Even though, studies have found the opposite to be true.

Addictions often begin with trying to cope with a high level of stress, chronic pain, or depression. Social stigmas only add to these problems when one feels the need to hide their disease instead of seeking help to recover from it. This catch-22 may cause the addiction to escalate not recede.

So, what can be done about it?

Synonyms of the word ‘stigma”

  • bad reputation
  • disgrace
  • dishonor
  • humiliation
  • shame

Facts Are Facts

First, educate yourself about addiction. The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) defines addiction in this way:

“Addiction is characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response. Like other chronic diseases, addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission. Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death.”

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines addiction, specifically drug addiction as:

“… a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. It is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain; they change its structure and how it works. These brain changes can be long lasting and can lead to many harmful, often self-destructive, behaviors.”

5 Ways to Help Battle Addiction’s Social Stigma

Dr. David Rosenbloom recommends taking these steps to advocate for addiction recovery and fight the stigma associated with addiction:

1. Insist on equal medical insurance coverage and co-pay amounts for rehabilitation treatment.
2. Write to elected government officials to provide aid to children of addicted parents.
3. Write to state-level elected government officials to change the legal obstacles preventing those in recovery from being hired by corporations.
4. Educate those around you with the truth about addiction being a disease vs. social stigma beliefs.
5. Become an advocate for those suffering from addiction.

If you know someone silently trying to overcome addiction, reach out a hand today.

About the author
Suzi Martel, founder of In Suzi's Words, is a freelance lifestyle writer who has a passion for writing informative copy on a variety of topics including addiction treatment and drug rehab.
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