Why is Addiction and Substance Abuse so much stigmatized?

Why Exactly is Addiction Stigmatized?

Reading through a number of comments on one of the posts “Don’t Discriminate!” at this web platform by LParks88, I would like to offer a few points why there’s so much stigma in our society today, despite over 23M people in the US affected by Addiction Disorders and only about 2.5M receiving treatment on average mostly due to stigma.

The Most substantial reason why addiction is stigmatized is because most people don’t understand it. It is human nature to fear (and stigmatize) what we don’t understand, and when it comes to addiction, most people don’t see it as the disease it is. In fact, more than 76% of Americans believe that substance addiction is nothing more than a moral problem. However, the idea that people who struggle with substance use disorders choose to continue using drugs and alcohol is wrong.

Since addiction changes brain chemistry, those who develop a dependence on a substance— illicit or otherwise— have no choice but to feed the addiction. After all, the addicted brain tricks the body into needing drugs or alcohol. Addiction, then, is rightfully classified as a chronic disease. Even so, most people fail to recognize substance abuse disorder as a disease. Also, those with other chronic health conditions don’t usually face the same stigma.

Factors of Addiction That Perpetuate the Stigma

Although the general public seems to be gaining a better understanding of most chronic mental health conditions, most people still perpetuate misconceptions about addiction. The reasons why stem from many factors, including our laws regarding drugs, the language we use regarding addiction, and the high relapse rates among those with substance use disorders.

Disproportioned Anti-Drug Laws and Sentencing

Not every drug is illegal. Alcohol is widely considered socially acceptable (when consumed in moderation), and drugstore medications can be prescribed to just about anyone. When it comes to illicit drugs, however, our attitudes toward them can be traced back several decades.

The U.S. government has always been vocal about illicit drug use, and even today it continues to promote anti-drug messages. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, our nation’s “war on drugs” doesn’t do much to encourage people to seek help. In fact, the strict laws surrounding illicit drug make it out to be as immoral as other criminal activities like violence and prostitution.

Additionally, the punishments for drug-related crimes make it difficult for people in recovery to reintegrate into society. As a result, even the people who served time for drug-related misdemeanors like possession have a more difficult time finding employment, receiving welfare benefits, and other things needed for long-term sobriety.

The Words We Use

Language plays a significant role in any stigma, but especially in addiction. The negative words and hurtful labels we use when talking about addiction carry a more substantial impact than they often realize. Using stigmatizing language can prevent people who need treatment from reaching out for help. Some of the more common terms that feed the addiction stigma include:

  • crackhead
  • stoner
  • junkie
  • clean
  • dirty

Even the words “addict” and “addiction” seems to carry a negative connotation since it’s become so tainted by stigmatization.

Breaking the Stigma

Anyone can be guilty of perpetuating the stigma of addiction; strangers, friends, family, and even healthcare providers. What makes this especially dangerous is the epidemic levels of drug overdoses in the United States today. Drug overdoses have overtaken every other form of accidental death. To reduce the number of national drug overdose deaths, we have to encourage more people with substance use disorders to receive treatment— and we can only do that by putting an end to the stigma against addiction.

Steps You Can Take:

  • using non-stigmatizing language instead of harmful labels
  • doing research and raising awareness about what drug dependency is and how it works
  • forming thoughts and opinions about addiction based on evidence and facts
  • offering support, kindness, and compassion to people with substance use disorders
  • listening to people with substance use disorders and their loved ones without judgment
  • treating everyone with respect and dignity— even the people struggling with drug dependency

I hope this can help someone!

Some Consulted Sources: thetreatmentcenter.com, discuss.treatmenthub365.com

~ Fred.

Regular User Asked on September 25, 2018 in Stigma in Treatment.
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4 Answer(s)

Hello Fred,

Welcome to this discussion platform. We are honored to have you with us! Thank you for taking time to share your insights on addiction stigma and how best we can all get involved into the fight against it. I pray that everyone picks a point or so. Much appreciated and feel free to always share your experience and knowledge for edification of all.


Moderator Answered on September 25, 2018.
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I’m humbled, thank you moderator!

Regular User Answered on September 25, 2018.
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Fred,  your comments are very instructive and at the same time very refreshing. I can tell you know what you are talking about. I wish there were more people with your knowledge and believes out there. If I can add something, I would say that I believe there are a lot more than 23M people suffering from addiction. And if we count the people suffering from mental health disorders, the number of people suffering from these diseases should be around 150M. Thank you.

Super User Answered on September 26, 2018.
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Thanks Olivier for the correction and your comment. Means a lot!

Regular User Answered on September 28, 2018.
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