The Stigma of Addiction, What It Is, What It Does and How to Fight It
What is stigma and in what way does it relate to the heroin epidemic, addiction and recovery? Stigma is a public health issue and it is defined as a set of negative beliefs that a group of society holds about a topic or group of people. Stigma is rarely founded by facts and can have negative affects on those stigmatized. To live with a stigma is to live with chronic stress of discrimination. Addicts are stigmatized every day and it makes getting addiction treatment that much more difficult.
My paternal grandparents being very religious believed that people afflicted with mental illness and addiction were actually possessed by demons. I know, this is an extreme example of stigmatization but the truth is that addicts are still demonized so to speak everyday.
Examples of Stigma About Addiction and Addicts
Many people, including members of our popular online recovery community make the statement that addiction is a choice. This could not be more wrong. While drug use is a choice addiction is actually a chronic brain disease, with plenty of scientific and medical research to prove it. See “Proof that Addiction is a Disease: How Addiction Affects the Brain”
Heroin and other drugs alter the brains cortex, limbic system and brain stem. These are parts of the brain that are necessary for life sustaining functions. Addiction interferes with the brain’s communication and a person’s ability to make decisions. Addiction is marked by a persons loss of ability to resist cravings despite negative physical, personal or even social consequences. Another stigmatization is that addicts are just bad people and can not recover.
Those suffering from addiction are not bad people, they are just sick. In active addiction, an addict may do bad things and they are accountable for that but in recovery you are not defined by what you have done, only by who you are. Now, we are not absolving those suffering from addiction of accountability and responsibility for their actions. However, many behaviors and choices are driven by their disease. This often includes lying, cheating, manipulating and even theft – all in the name of acquiring and using heroin or their drug of choice, often abbreviated as DOC. There is no cure for addiction but we can definitely recover and millions have.
How Stigma Associated with Addiction Affects Addicts
Since stigma is always false, misleading and negative, men and women suffering from addiction often feel shame and guilt. Negative and false statements and insults hurled at an addict certainly won’t motivate them to get into treatment and long-term, lasting recovery.
In 2014 21.5 million Americans had a substance use disorder or SUD but only 2.5 million received the addiction treatment that they needed. Stigma can negatively impact a person’s self esteem and mental health. These ideas and misconceptions keep addicts from seeking help and addiction treatment because they’re embarrassed. If anything, stigma only serves to take away from the validity that addiction is indeed a disease and convinces addicts that they can not recover. Stigma can beat an addict down to the point where he or she end up using heroin or other drugs due to a blatant lack of support and understanding.
Stigma also impacts other areas such as harm reduction and an addicts willingness to participate in programs such as needle exchanges or safe using houses and can even discourage them from seeking other substitute therapies.
Why Do People Stigmatize Addiction and How Do We Fight Against It as a Community?
In my experience people attach stigma for a few reasons. They’ve either been hurt by or lost a loved one to addiction or they are simply uneducated on the matter. We need to raise awareness, educate the public and help people understand how addiction really works and teach people to be more encouraging so that loved ones may have a better fighting chance to desire and get addiction treatment.
A recovering addict can and should fight the stigma by leading by example. We can keep our houses clean, take care of our children and become an active and productive member of society. Recovering addicts need to come out of the shadow to show the diversity of this disease. A recovering addict is a hero and should be proud of themselves. Share your story on our free heroin addiction and recovery discussion forum and let it help and touch other’s lives.
Many people think that having compassion for an addict is enabling them but to understand is not to endorse. Let’s prove people wrong and teach them compassion. Let’s show them how to see people without labels and certainly without judgment. We all need to display kindness and treat all people with respect especially those who stigmatize because we can educate with out belittling.
Be there to listen to people and do it without judgment. Every experience is different and so is every recovery journey. As those in recovery our fight is not over, we need to fight the stigma of addiction and addicts for all of those still suffering. By raising awareness, education and reaching out to those people still suffering from addiction or even those struggling in their recovery, we can save more lives!
Written and Published By,
Franky Valentine – Editor and Forum Co-Moderator For Kill the Heroin Epidemic Nationwide™
Visit our Free Heroin Addiction & Recovery Discussion Forum
“We are a community for recovering heroin addicts providing support and recommending the best treatments and clinics to people interested in conquering their addiction.”