Have you ever refused a drink at a social gathering and felt as if everyone immediately started wondering what was wrong with you? Have you been asked, “Why aren’t you drinking?” and been afraid to answer because you felt like you were being judged, or that you might be forced to admit to having a problem?
These scenarios may have never crossed your mind if you don’t have a substance abuse issue. But if you do, this situation and so many others may feel like a big problem. They are examples of the stigma that people with addictions face in our society every day.
What Is Stigma?
Many studies have been done to try to identify the specific stigmatizing beliefs held against those with addictions. These studies indicate that:
Society tends to characterize alcohol-dependent individuals as irresponsible and lacking in self-control.
Research in the United Kingdom found that 54% of the population believes alcohol-dependent individuals are personally to blame for their own problems.
People prefer greater social distance between themselves and addicts than between themselves and people with other mental illnesses.
People with drug addiction are labeled more dangerous and blameworthy than those with other mental illnesses.
These findings clearly show that stigma affects everyday judgements and creates negative views of addicts. These people are judged for no reason other than the fact that they have such issues. This is unfair. Some of these views are even illustrated in public policy, such as illegal drug abuse being seen as a crime rather than as a medical condition.
It’s no wonder that people with substance abuse issues don’t want to talk about them or even admit to them. “What will my parents think of me?” and “Will I get fired from my job?” are common concerns. Sadly, stigma prevents many people from reaching out and getting help for their addiction.
Addiction Recovery And Fighting The Stigma
And while it is true that stigma may prevent some from seeking treatment, Freedom From Addiction believes that addiction is an illness and that recovery is possible. We also believe that those in recovery can help dispel the myths and stigma around addiction issues by talking about their experiences in an open and honest way. Research supports this view, and communicating positive stories of people in recovery has been found to be an effective strategy to reduce social stigma.
Many addicts experience “recovery pride” as they heal, especially when they realize how far they’ve come since they were in active addiction. It’s common to hear people say, “I couldn’t imagine how I could ever stay sober, but now I can’t imagine going back. I’m grateful for how much better my life is now!” It’s important for addicts in recovery to tell their stories of experience, strength, and hope because it can help others in their journey.
So whether you’re an addict who’s fighting the stigma on your own, or the loved one of a person with a substance abuse issue, please know that recovery is possible and we can fight the stigma together.