Do you remember the book The Scarlet Letter? This novel, written in 1850 and set in a Puritan community in the 1600s, features Hester Prynne, a woman forced to wear a red letter A on her chest. She wears this letter because her fellow townspeople believe she has sinned and should be ashamed of her actions.
Although our society does not shame people by forcing them to wear large, colorful letters, it does sometimes take Puritan approaches when addressing problems. It negatively labels people in other ways. One of ways society labels people is by attaching stigmas to them.
A stigma is a symbol of shame. People assign stigmas to others, but the people who bear such stigmas often internalize them and feel the shame themselves.
People who carry such stigmas often have to bear the burden of their actions (or alleged actions) and the stigmas that others have attached to them.
Effects of Stigma
Unfortunately, we often see society stigmatizing people for their drug use, or even if they’ve used drugs in the past and are now recovered. Not surprisingly, such stigmas hurt, not help, current and present users. That’s because stigmas
• Make people feel bad about themselves, which could lead to low self-esteem, which could contribute to depression. People might use even more drugs and alcohol as a way to self-medicate this depression.
• Are negative judgments meant to hurt people, not constructive criticism that could help people improve areas of their lives. Stigmas are like those statements on Internet discussion forums and message boards where people seem to love bashing other people but don’t offer praise or anything else positive. We all know that heroin abuse creates problems. Judging people doesn’t solve them.
• Prevent people from seeking heroin addiction treatment or other forms of care. People struggling with drug or alcohol abuse may be reluctant to ask for help if they think people will call them weak, flawed, or morally compromised for using drugs and alcohol.
How to Minimize or Eliminate Stigma
Fortunately, there are ways to minimize stigmas, if not eradicate them completely. Since stigmas relate to the ways people view things, it stands to reason that changing our thinking can help end stigmatization. We can do this by
• Viewing addiction as a medical condition and disease, not a personal weakness. Drug and alcohol abuse affect the body and affect the mind. Since medical and therapeutic care can help people treat this complex condition, doesn’t substance abuse sound like a disease instead of a moral flaw?
• Learning that addiction strikes normal people from all walks of life. Anyone can begin abusing drugs or alcohol at any time. Addicts aren’t one group of people. They’re all groups of people.
• Remembering what addicts were like before their addictions. Since addictions affect the mind, they might temporarily change the way a person thinks or behaves. That’s why it’s important to remember the maxim “hate the addiction, not the addict,” when we’re dealing with someone in active addiction or recovery.
• Seeking help for ourselves. Addiction is complicated. If you or someone is addicted, you’re dealing with a complex medical and psychological condition during a highly emotional time. Researching addiction and visiting a counselor might be ways to understand addiction and the addict in your life, which can help both you and your loved one struggling with the condition.
Heroin abuse and other forms of drug and alcohol abuse are difficult enough. Outside judgment and stigmas make the struggle even harder. Compassion is so much more helpful than labels.
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Written by Guest Blogger Pam Zuber for Kill the Heroin Epidemic Nationwide™, Heroin News, and the National Alliance of Addiction Treatment Centers (NAATC)
Bio: Pam Zuber is a writer and editor who has explored health and wellness, mental illness, substance abuse, history, business, and other topics for various sites and publications.
We are a community for recovering heroin addicts providing support and recommending the best treatments and clinics to people interested in conquering their addiction.
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