Unlike any other disease, addiction is kept quiet because of shame and embarrassment.
If you, your spouse, your child, or your sibling was actively using heroin to the point of addiction, would you seek help right away? When your loved one showed the first signs of drug or alcohol abuse, what would you do? Would you talk to friends and acquaintances about it? Would you hide the truth about what was going on, justifying that it is family business that no one else needs to know about?
Now what if that person you thought of had cancer. Would you keep the information quiet or would you talk with friends and acquaintances in hope of recommendations for treatment facilities and what has worked or not worked for others being treated for cancer?
Stigmas Around Addiction
There is definitely still a stigma surrounding drug addiction that keeps countless people ill.
The following misconceptions about addiction keep the stigma alive.
1. A Moral Failing
Even though science has proven that addiction (to any substance or behavior) is a chronic brain disease that results from a chemical alteration, people still view the disease as a moral failing. The word “junkie” alone shows so much of the problem.
2. The War on Drugs
The government would like to think that it is making a difference, but can start a war against a disease, or even a moral failing for that matter? What would really help is spending that money on education for kids about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, and for parents and teachers on the early warning signs of addiction and how to seek help.
Additionally, providing treatment for people who need it and changing the laws on substance abuse treatment for health insurance companies would help more than acting like a war will keep people from progressing to the point of addiction.
3. Mental Illness
Sadly, a majority of people suffering from the symptoms of depression, anxiety, or another mental illness are self-medicating with drugs and alcohol. A lot of people experiencing depression are drinking to alleviate the pain and discomfort. When both depression and alcoholism are left untreated, each will get worse.
The stigma surrounding mental illness is feeding the stigma surrounding mental illness, and vice versa.
People who need treatment are instead sent to jail. From then on, you are a criminal. You have not received any help to stop substance abuse, you are labeled an addict, and then you are forever also labeled a criminal. How is anyone like that supposed to overcome an addiction?
5. Under the Microscope
Even after an extended period of sobriety, society still keeps a watchful eye on recovering addicts. It is hard to get a job and to earn respect in this world when you have battled addiction in your past.
Back to the cancer analogy. If a loved one was in remission, would you constantly referred to him or her as “the one who had cancer” or would it almost be forgotten to an extent, not wanting to constantly remind that person of what they endured? Why can’t the same be true for addicts?
We hold addicts to an unfair set of stigmas that are only adding pressure to an already difficult disease.
Author Byline: Jared Friedman has a MA in Psychology from Pepperdine University, and works as the quality improvement manager at Sovereign Health Group a treatment center that treats addiction and mental health issue via their dual diagnosis clinic http://www.sovcal.com/dual-diagnosis-treatment.shtml.