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Addiction Stigma: Shattering Judgment in Recovery

Because of addiction stigma, addicts were widely punished rather than treated, and although we have a much more enlightened and refined understanding of addiction based on direct observation, it seems that attitudes from less informed times continue to pervade today’s culture.

Before we realized that addiction was a disease, the consensus was that anyone who exhibited excessive substance abuse behavior was simply choosing not to exercise any self-control. In other words, it was believed that these were bad people who were morally weak and had obviously lost their connections with God.

Compared to other diseases like cancer or diabetes, addiction is a very complicated affliction. Neither physical nor psychological, the disease lives somewhere in between, affecting the mind, body, and spirit in nearly equal measures. Additionally, the fact that everyone who becomes addicted is different and experiences the disease different adds to its complexity and is likely the reason why addiction remained so poorly understood until only somewhat recently.

However, with decades of research and study we’ve been able to develop a number of approaches in the treatment of addiction. Some people swear by twelve-step programs and others credit their recoveries with the holistic or naturalist methods of treatment, but the most effective means of overcoming alcoholism or drug addiction is getting treatment at an addiction recovery facility.

Public Perceptions of Addiction and Substance Abuse

When you consider public perceptions of addicts and the disease of addiction, it’s important to consider how it is that people are forming their opinions. In other words, what information are they receiving from which they are basing their judgments?

Despite the fact that the American Society of Addiction medicine (ASAM) defines addiction as a “primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory, and related circuitry,” the majority of the U.S. population continues to view addiction as a moral failing rather than a disease and addicts as being immoral, selfish people rather than victims of a brain disorder.

There are a couple key reasons for this, but the bottom line is that these views are based on the information that is publicized and the implications of government action against addiction.

Take the media, for instance. If there is an addict portrayed in the media, it’s almost a guarantee that the person will be the personification of the “worst case scenario” of addiction. This often means showing criminals, homeless people, and people who have contracted disease through their drug use, and then claiming that these people represent the entire population of addicts.

Unfortunately, that encourages the addiction stigma that has continued to persist in our society. Moreover, while government leaders assert that addiction is a brain disease for which people shouldn’t be demonized and punished, their actions indicate otherwise, including the so-called War on Drugs.

It’s difficult for the public to be objective and sympathetic when their own government claims to understand addiction as a disease while also implying that addicts are an enemy of the public needing to be defeated.

Why Is Addiction So Highly Stigmatized?

The best way to explain why addicts and addiction are so highly stigmatized is with a very common expression, which mentions how a few “bad apples can spoil the bunch”. In effect, it’s so stigmatized because only the worst-case scenarios are being publicized, and since they’re the only addicts that people are seeing, it’s almost as if they’re representing all addicts.

This makes the general population assume that the homeless, diseased, criminal addicts they see in the media are what every addict would be like, and it causes them to be fearful and distrustful of anyone who’s addicted to alcohol or drugs. Essentially, they fail to see addiction as a disease because the portrayals of addicts they’re seeing are being sensationalized and misrepresented, causing lower opinions of addicts than what’s deserved.

Implications of the Addiction Stigma

People suffering from addiction are the ones who suffer due to addiction stigma and demonization of addicts. This extremely low public perception of addicts is the reason why most of them don’t want to seek treatment as it would require them to admit to their addictions. By remaining in active addiction, they can try to keep their alcoholism or drug addictions from their communities who they know would judge them harshly.

There have been many sources to look at the effects of addiction stigmatization on the alcohol- and drug-addicted community, and the consensus is that addiction stigma is discouraging them from seeking treatment. This essentially makes the stigma a self-fulfilling prophecy because this discrimination discourages addicts from treatment, and the longer addicts remain in active addiction the more likely they become to sink to such lows that they end up resorting to criminal behavior or being exposed to disease.

Why the Addiction Stigma Is Wrong

The most obvious problem with the addiction stigma, and the one that was mentioned briefly above, is that it punishes the many for the actions of only a few. Since it’s the worst addicts being publicized, they’re all viewed as being criminals and the like, but there are addicts at many different levels of severity.

In fact, there are many who haven’t harmed anyone else over the course of their addictions, but being viewed as bad people would discourage them from seeking treatment. Nobody wants to be persecuted for things they’ve not done, so the stigma is both unfair and unjust.

Find Your Way Back To Health With Drug Treatment Center Finder

If you or someone you like is suffering from alcoholism or drug addiction and would like a free consultation, call Drug Treatment Center Finder at 855-619-8070. We’re available anytime, day or night, to help you or your loved one find the right rehab and begin the journey of recovery, so call us today.