Even though it is 2017, the concern of stigma is alive and well when it comes to addiction. Stigmas, or misconceptions or negative thoughts that affect the way a person is viewed, can be harmful because they perpetuate the commonly held and inaccurate ideas about people who have struggled with addiction.
Though society has come a long way in the past few decades, shame and guilt are often still associated with addiction. There is still sometimes judgment passed on those who have struggled with addiction. There are still misconceptions about what addiction really looks like.
It’s unfortunate, but the truth is that negative stigmas around addiction will probably never be completely eradicated. However, there are certain steps you can take to do your part to lessen these stigmas. Here are just a few.
1. Talk about addiction and recovery and the stigma.
This is perhaps the most obvious step, but also one of the hardest for some people. Talking about one’s struggles with addiction does not always come easily, but by talking about addiction you are helping to personify it. People may no longer view it as some far away, unknown, scary thing. They are able to see a real person who has struggled with addiction yet is still standing in front of them and talking about it. They can see that recovery is possible, that someone who has struggled with addiction is not defined by it and can still lead a happy and successful life.
2. Pay attention to the language you use.
Language goes a long way in any situation. The types of words used when talking about addiction can influence a person’s beliefs about it. Certain words that have a negative connotation and should be avoided include junkie, druggie, clean, dirty, abuser, user, etc. Since addiction is defined as a disease, the language used when discussing it should remain more medical in nature.
3. Know the facts about addiction.
Because addiction is a disease, it affects the body and brain. Some people truly do not understand this aspect and think that addiction is just a lack of willpower to get better. By being able to explain that addiction has to do with the reward center of the brain and the chemicals involved there, you may be able to teach someone something they did not know about addiction. In turn, this could change their view of the disease and how they talk about it to the people in their own lives.
4. Encourage others to seek help.
For whatever reason, asking for help is sometimes viewed as a weakness. Because of this, some people struggling with addiction have a hard time gathering the courage to reach out and seek treatment. Instead, they try to get sober on their own or they continue to drink or use. This can be dangerous, as getting sober on one’s own may lead to withdrawals. Additionally, it may not be as effective as reaching out for professional help. In order to change people’s perceptions of asking for help, make an effort to talk about it and normalize it. If asking for help becomes something that is viewed as necessary rather than weak, more people may be willing to take that step to better their lives.
5. Speak up when you see or hear something that is wrong.
It is often too easy to just step back and remove yourself from a situation when you don’t agree with what is being said or done. In order to educate people, it’s necessary to step in and speak up. If someone is talking about addiction in a negative manner or using derogatory language, it may just be because they don’t know any better. Having someone explain why that is problematic may be all they need in order to change their mindset. Even if it’s not, you’ve at least planted a seed for them to consider.
Of course, there are other ways to fight stigmas as well. These five are merely suggestions as a starting point. The journey to eliminate stigma around addiction is not a short or simple one, but if more people make the effort to minimize the stigma in their own lives, it just may make a difference in the big picture.