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Overcoming the Stigma of Addiction

The stigma of addiction can be deadly. When a person suffering from addiction or alcoholism feels shame for their disease, it can keep them from seeking the treatment they so desperately need. Many people falsely believe that addiction is the result of a lack of willpower or moral values rather than a disease. They may be unable to understand why someone suffering from addiction is unable to stop and assume that it is not a disease.


The American Society of Medicine, in a 2015 article entitled Patients with Addiction Need Treatment—Not Stigma, explains that terms like “junkie” and “crackhead” are dismissive and disdainful because “they reflect a moral judgment that is a relic of a bygone era when our understanding of addiction was limited, when many thought that addiction was some sort of moral failing and should be a source of shame.” Fortunately, scientific research has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that addiction is a disease that requires treatment to overcome.


The stigma can also be a self-stigma. We become aware of what other people think of us based solely on the knowledge that we suffer from addiction or alcoholism. Steven Matthews, in a 2017 Journal of Bioethical Inquiry article entitled Stigma and Self-Stigma in Addiction, explains, “It comes about via internalization of the negative stereotype, a resultant loss of self-esteem, and acting out of the negative public image. This public image excludes affected individuals from public engagement by seeing them as, for example, unreliable or untrustworthy.” One interviewee, Tom, explained that he was paranoid to be around other people’s possessions because if anything went missing “nine out of ten people in the room would be dismissed and I’d get the blame,” based solely on his struggles with addiction.


Ending the stigma against men and women struggling with addiction and alcoholism can be difficult. According to the Drug Policy Alliance’s publication entitled Stigma and People Who Use Drugs, research has indicated a majority of healthcare workers have negative and stereotyped views of drug users. Stigma also can keep a person from seeking treatment or utilizing harm-reduction services. Addressing the stigma requires addressing the language being used about drug users. The language and words being used, such as “junkie”, can uphold negative stereotypes. The Drug Policy Alliance explains, “Words like ‘crackhead,’ ‘junkie’ and ‘pillhead’ dehumanize a person who may be struggling with addiction. Focus on the whole person, not a behavior. Instead of ‘addict’, refer to a ‘person addicted to drugs.’” With education about drugs and an awareness of language, we can help end the stigma associated with addiction.

You should never be too ashamed to seek help. Resilient House, located in beautiful Shreveport, Louisiana, is staffed with caring and compassionate professionals ready to address all the aspects of substance dependency to bring you to a state of wholeness that supports long-term sobriety. Resilient House offers safe and effective treatment in a breathtaking setting so you can focus on what matters most– getting better. For more information, please call today: (833) 242-6431