Helping to Reverse the Stigma of Addiction
Unlike other mental health issues, addiction is often judged and considered more harshly. There are several reasons for this. First of all, addiction is frequently seen as a personal choice and as a continued choice the person keeps making. Secondly, it has more of a stigma because people with addiction may be perceived as more likely to be criminals, unemployed, and have other negative characteristics that are associated with negative ideas on the individual’s personality and character. Thirdly, addidction is associated with the use of substances that may be illicit, which changes the perception people might have of the person due to the legal issues involved. This attitude towards addiction is associated with ages-old ideas on addiction a a moral character, but are also often rooted in misconceptions. Let’s take a look at some of these.
The first and most common misconception is associated with the idea that addiction is an autonomous and continued choice. It is linked to the idea that the person with substance abuse problem could stop any time they choose, so if they keep on using, it’s because of their choice. However, addiction is more complicated than that. The use of substances is associated with changes to a person’s brain and behavior that can be significant and that can make the choice to quit not only difficult but often impossible without outside support. The addiction creates a situation where the more the person uses, the more difficult it is to stop but the more damage is being done to them as well. While there is an aspect of choice involved, addiction is significantly more complex than a choice. People with substance abuse problems often face dramatic consequences for continuing to use, like loss of relationships, emloyment, housing, and health. However, despite this, people find themselves struggling to stop using. In addition to this, many people find that without the drug, their body no longer functions normally and they experience significant distress that can threatent their physical and mental well-being.
Another aspect related to stigma which is important to consider is that addiction is something that only happens to a specific group of people with specific characteristics. For example, many people have the idea that all addicts are involved with criminal activity, are uneducated, or have other undesirable characteristics. In addition to this, ideas on addiction often are associated with racial and class biases, for example, linking drugs, poverty, race, and criminality. However, the reality is that addiction can occur to anyone. People with addiction can be very well-off, for instance, and belong to any group. This has become even more accurate today when prescription medications are among the most abused substances out there.
Another myth associated with the stigma surrounding addiction is that the person is only truly addicted when they have touched rock bottom. People who still are able to continue their lives or employment might not be seen as addicts. This is a myth that has dangerous consequences for people with addiction and those who might be developing it. It suggests that someone who more or less has their life together cannot have an addiction, which is inaccurate. Someone might have the capacity to be high-functioning because their addiction is developing slowly or because they have enough resources. This feeds into the stereotype that the person who is addicted is at the bottom of society, someone poor and engaging in criminal or illicit activity. But this myth is also harmful to people who might not yet acknowledge their own addiction because they are managing to keep their lives on an adequate level.
The final myth that contributes to the stigma around addiction is that people with addiction will never change. There is a significant debate concerning whether people with addiction continue to have this problem throughout their lives. For example, the AA strongly believes in this premise. But even if this is so, people with addiction can change and get better. Many can live their lives without going back to substance abuse. Promoting the idea that addicts will never change is very harmful. It suggests that any form of discrimination towards them is justified because it suggests that addiction is something that is intrinsic to them. It also can frame something expected in recovery, relapse, as evidence for it. However, people with addiction can change. It can be seen often with individuals coming from different backgrounds. Especially when they are given the right type of support, people with addiction can stop using and stay in remission throughout most of their lives.
If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, one of our recovery specialist at Charleston Sober Living would be happy to assist you! There need not be any shame surrounding your desire to recovery and we will support you through the process and help get you connected to the best in business! Please feel free to read our previous blog about who can develop an addiction