Overcoming Drug Addiction Stigma
One of the most challenging aspects of substance abuse is struggling with the stigma of addiction. Many people struggling with addiction are made to feel ashamed for suffering from this dangerous mental illness. Individuals either knowingly or unknowingly tend to treat users like they are second class citizens, or they are ‘less-than’ since they struggle with drug addiction. This is something that every individual suffering from addiction has dealt with at some point in their journey, and it is incredibly harmful. In this article, we are going to discuss why the drug addiction stigma is so detrimental. If others can prevent spreading this harmful stigma, those who suffer from addiction can work to overcome it.
The Harmful Stigma Surrounding Drug Addiction
Drug addiction stigma is exceptionally harmful to those who are struggling with addiction for many reasons. First, the shame and disgrace surrounding addiction often prevent people from seeking help for their illness. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, approximately 20.1 million people suffer from an addiction. Of those 20.1 million people, only 1.4% of them received treatment for their addiction. If someone is made to feel as though there is something wrong with them or that they should hide their addiction, they are not going to seek help for it.
This stigma also increases drug use. Since drug and alcohol addiction is a mental illness, shaming a user will cause them to withdraw from social settings and become more depressed and anxious. Not only does the shame, depression, and anxiety cause a person to begin using more, but it also pushes drug users into dangerous social circles. Being surrounded by other drug abusers is a toxic and harmful environment for those who hope to overcome their addictions.
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Drug and Alcohol Addiction is Not a Choice
One of the reasons that drug addiction stigma is so rampant is because many people do not understand that drug addictions are chronic illnesses. It is not merely a lifestyle that a person chooses. Drug addiction typically stems from mental illness. A person will try to heal or numb the pain caused by trauma or other mental illness by using a drug or drinking alcohol. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, this can quickly lead to compulsive drug seeking and usage. Drugs and alcohol change the way the brain is wired, causing one to have trouble with self-control and intense urges. If we can begin to see drug abuse as a chronic condition similar to depression, OCD, or even asthma and diabetes, the stigma will quickly fade. We will start to see addicted individuals as they are: people who desperately need help, love, support, and guidance.
How to Overcome the Drug Addiction Stigma
Overcoming this stigma will take effort both for drug users and non-drug users alike.
For Addicted Individuals:
These people feel the stigma the most deeply, and often perpetuate the stigma, as well. They often think to themselves, “What is wrong with me? Why can’t I just quit?” As if it were that easy. It is important for those suffering from addiction to remember they are not at fault; they are not in control, and that they do need help. Here are a few ways someone can overcome the drug addiction stigma:
- Surround yourself with positive, helpful people. Tell someone who you can trust about your struggle. Seek to surround yourself with people who do not judge you and who love you regardless of your illness. This does not include other people who are currently using but can consist of people who are clean and have been sober for a while.
- Seek treatment. Easier said than done, but this is the first step in learning to love and accept yourself as you are. This is the most significant act of self-love you can take. Through drug addiction treatment, you will learn how to cope with the shameful feelings surrounding the drug addiction stigma.
- Talk about your experiences. Discuss your experiences with addiction, with shame, with mental illness, everything. Try not to keep these feelings bottled up. Share with a counselor, a friend or family member you trust, or write it down in your journal. Getting these feelings out of your head and into the world is a great way to start healing.
- Love yourself. Do something every single day that makes you happy. Journal, meditate, exercise, drink a fancy latte, go for a walk at your favorite park, anything that is good for your body and mind! Remind yourself why you are worth taking care of.
- Have Faith. Maintain the belief that healing and overcoming addiction is possible, and that you can do this.
- Educate yourself. Learn all you can about mental illness, addiction, and drug addiction stigma. This is the first step to helping someone with an addiction. If you can understand why a person abuses drugs, you will begin to understand how you can help them.
- Be compassionate. Learn ways you can show compassion to someone suffering from addiction, and why this is beneficial for everyone.
- Show kindness. It’s important to openly and publicly show that you support those who suffer from addiction. Do not speak ill of those who are suffering, even in private. This only serves to perpetuate the idea that addicted individuals have something to be ashamed of.
- Educate others. Speak out against the mistreatment of anyone suffering from addiction. Speak up for policies that can help people overcome their addictions, and talk about why this is so important.
Overcoming the harmful stigma surrounding drug addiction can be complicated. But it’s possible if we seek to understand addiction and educate ourselves and others about the truth of addiction. Working towards love, acceptance, and support will go a long way in helping our loved ones overcome their addictions.
Overcoming addiction is not easy and cannot be done alone. If you or a loved one is suffering from an addiction, seek help today. The experienced counselors at Soul Surgery are ready to help you heal from the inside out so that you can take back control of your life.