The Stigma of Addiction

by | Last updated Jun 12, 2023 | Published on Jun 8, 2021 | Addictions, Mental Health | 0 comments


Substance use disorder is an illness that has no shortage of difficulties. Admitting that someone needs treatment is hard enough without having to deal with worrying about people judging you for it. The last thing that anyone struggling with addiction wants is to feel like they’re less of a person for it. There’s a particular stigma attached to those who deal with substance abuse. 

Is There a Stigma Toward Addiction?

Studies have shown that there is a stigma toward addiction. Talking about addiction in the United States was once not well-received. The culture of that day did not know much concerning mental health conditions, and because of this families were ashamed when they found out about a substance use disorder.

There are many people in the United States and throughout the world that suffer from poor mental health. More recently, diseases such as depression and anxiety have become accepted and many people express concern rather than shame over those who suffer from it. This, however, is not the case with substance abuse. 

There is a massive misconception concerning severe mental illness in the United States. While those who suffer from poor mental health may be good, productive people with a stable job, they are fearful of the judgment that will come from others, and they shouldn’t have to be. The guilt associated with addiction has been a hurdle for many seeking treatment.  

What is a Stigma?

To put it simply, a stigma is any sort of disapproval or discrimination against someone who has any sort of distinguishability about them. Stigmas usually have to do with culture, health, or gender; this can come from anyone and be directed towards anyone different from social norms.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), stigmas are a difficult hurdle to get over. Obstacles like these make recovery from poor mental health next to impossible. Substance abuse is misunderstood by many, and because of this, it can lead to even worse mental health issues for those who suffer from addiction. 

There have been many studies done that expose the impact stigma has on those who have the potential to seek treatment. In 2007, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (NCASA) conducted a study in which 37 percent of college students neglected assistance for their substance use disorder because they were fearful of the stigma surrounding addiction.

In addition to this, there are some studies that suggest stigma towards substance abuse makes one’s addiction worse. When those who suffer from substance abuse believe they are being discriminated against, their depression and anxiety increased substantially. Not only that but those who suffer from dual diagnosis (when someone suffers from addiction and another mental health disorder at the same time), felt as though there was a more negative attitude towards them. 

Because of stigmas towards addiction, health care professionals are careful not to stigmatize their patients. Medical professionals avoid using terms like “addiction” and “alcoholism” because they believe this has the potential to stigmatize their patients.

Why Do People Encourage Stigmas?

Addiction is stigmatized for many different reasons. Something common among the vast majority of individuals is a lack of understanding; what’s even more frightening to them is not understanding. Because of this, people have always judged or treated others differently than them unfairly.

In direct contrast to this, the more time passes on, the more society advances, both technologically and relationally. The culture of the modern-day is slowly but surely coming to a point of acceptance and understanding when it comes to mental health disorders. Depression and anxiety are doing quite well in regards to society’s growing understanding, but addiction is a different story entirely. 

Is the Government to Blame for the Addiction Stigma?

The government’s anti-drug initiative over the years could be a reason that people have become judgmental towards others who struggle with addiction. Not only this, but because of laws and strict policy concerning drug use and abuse, most people believe even the act of using a drug should be a punishable offense. Be that as it may, these people are more than their abuse. They’re people in need of help.

The conception of immorality among drug users goes all the way back to when countries established certain anti-drug laws. Drugs got stuck in a pool with other criminal behavior such as prostitution or violence, and in light of this it becomes much easier to recognize why modern-day society stigmatizes drug abuse. 

Continuing to Chase the Same High

When someone tries a drug for the first time, they experience a high that they will likely never achieve again. Because of this, some keep returning to the drug, hoping to achieve that same high. For some people, whether it’s their first time or fifth time, compulsive drug use is impossible to overcome.

Drug cravings are insatiable, and withdrawal symptoms are difficult to ignore. Substance use disorder is an actual illness; it takes command of a person’s mind, dictating their desires and decision-making. 

Even if some of those who attend treatment complete it, there are certain drug laws that make returning to the world outside of rehab difficult. For example, those who have been arrested for drug possession may have a difficult time finding a job or even being apart of their own families. Because of this, there are many things that could go a long way in helping them recover that won’t be made available to them because of their drug abuse history. 

Why Not Just Stop?

To completely stop abusing drugs cold-turkey is a bit of an unrealistic expectation. People can’t just stop because another person wants them to. Those who have never experienced substance use disorder or addiction of any kind couldn’t begin to comprehend what it’s like to struggle with substance abuse. Not only will they not understand the compulsion to abuse substances, but they also don’t understand how difficult it is to stop. 

Some people can snap out of it as soon as they are met with certain legal or health consequences, but others don’t have it this easy. Many of those who suffer from addiction do so because of genetic, environmental, and developmental factors. Without help, it is difficult to overcome their illness. 

Some people who really want to stop may seek treatment, which is great. They’ve overcome their fear of judgment and taken a leap of faith, but something happens: they relapse. Generally, people just don’t understand mental illness; it’s not something they’ve been taught. 

Due to their lack of understanding, it becomes effortless to judge someone who has relapsed. What they may not know is that there are other serious health conditions that have a high relapse rate, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. The difference is that people generally don’t judge someone who has diabetes and wants a small fry every now and then. The double standards are real. 

How to Combat the Stigma of Addiction

In order to combat the stigma of addiction, one must first recognize that they are human beings; they are not perfect individuals. Everybody has their flaws, and no one flaw is lesser than the other. It is only at this point that someone can put aside their judgments and help end the stigma of addiction. 

Chances are, those who are suffering from addiction have some fraction of self-awareness and know that they are fighting a battle that they cannot win alone. Regardless of whether or not they know this, why on earth would anybody want them to feel as though they are alone in their struggle? Alienating them only makes things worse, at which point those who hold the stigma of addiction are worse than the “enemy” they’ve conjured up in their imagination. 

Combating the stigma of addiction is not easy. What’s easy is to just give in and accept society for how it is. This is especially true because many authoritative and well-credited sources have encouraged judgment when it comes to the stigma of addiction. 

Regardless of where society is, however, it has to learn to accept those who suffer from substance use disorder if anything is to change. There are many individuals who want to get help, but they just aren’t sure how to do that, because to know you need help could just as well be writing your own death sentence in the eyes of society. 

Judgment and discrimination are the enemies of both progress and social inclusivity. When it comes to recovering well, individuals do their best when they feel encouraged and know that they matter. When people with addictions develop social connections, they are more likely to seek help and maintain a sober lifestyle.

The Freedom Center is Here to Help

At The Freedom Center, we know that the road to sobriety is not an easy one to travel. We are well aware of the stigma that addiction carries with it, and we believe that it is a problem. Here you can rest assured that each and every professional on our staff will treat you with the utmost respect and understanding. We promise to help you combat this illness in a way that fits your recovery needs. If you would like to learn more about treatment options at The Freedom Center, you can contact us here

Written by: Nick B.

Nicholas B. is the Corporate Director of Admissions for our substance abuse and behavioral health company. Nick’s mission is to provide quality care to every person that reaches out regarding substance abuse or behavioral health questions. Knowledge of an ever-changing industry, compassion when dealing with people, and compliance in every decision are the forces that drive his personal and professional growth.

Related Articles

A Life Free From Addiction Is Possible

Our admissions coordinators are available 24/7.
(888) 530-5023
Skip to content