There is something about human nature that makes us judge everything. That tastes good. That tastes bad. He/she/they look amazing. I look awful. We compare and judge and create stigmas throughout our society. Beliefs such as celebrities have perfect lives. Or people who drink too much are losers. There is no middle ground, such as many celebrities drink too much, even if that is perhaps closer to reality.
The stigmas that society has created around substance use are truly damaging, not only to those who struggle with addiction but also to all of society. Stigma prevents too many people from making the choice to seek treatment for substance use. Being free from substances allows us to contribute more to society, but being free from stigma also allows the world to be more compassionate and understanding of a challenge that many people have faced throughout time.
We have all heard the lines, maybe even from ourselves or someone we know. People with addiction have a moral weakness. People who drink too much have no willpower. There are far too many to list. The problem with stigmas is that they have no basis in fact or reality. The only thing human about them is that they cause harm to human beings. They hurt the people who are stigmatized, and they hurt those that perpetuate the stigma.
Imagine if everyone knew that anyone can become addicted to a substance. That those struggling with addiction include our church-going neighbors, the nice girl who babysits for everyone we know, the lawyer with their own charity, our favorite doctor, the business owner who works at the local soup kitchen on weekends. Substance use is all of us, it affects all of us, and, like any medical condition, any single one of us is susceptible to it.
Recognizing Our Own Prejudices
Many of us have biases or prejudices toward others based on many different things. Many of these ideas are ingrained from our childhood or upbringing; they impact the way we see the world, and usually, they are negative. For example, “blondes are dumb” is a stereotype that has long been perpetuated, yet most of us likely know someone who is very smart and also has blonde hair. However, this stereotype can be damaging when it impacts young people who hear this message over and over so much that they believe it.
The same holds true for us and stigmas regarding substance use. After a while, we believe that we have a moral weakness, or that we have no willpower. This makes it even harder to access the help that we need. We need to understand that the stigmas have no basis in reality, but rather, we are suffering from a medical condition. Addiction is based on science, science that demonstrates that almost anyone could become addicted to substances, regardless of any perceived faults or even hair color. Addiction can affect anyone.
Rising Above Stigma
Knowledge is the first and most powerful tool that helps us to rise above the stigma. When we understand, for example, that substances can very easily change the reward pathway in our brain to create addiction, then all of those other beliefs about addiction and about ourselves dissipate. We realize that addiction can have its beginnings in common practices such as social drinking or in prescription drug use.
Often, there is unresolved pain that causes us to turn to substance use. All of these things are very common, there is no need for stigma. As we realize for ourselves the inaccuracies of stigmas associated with substance use, we can also educate others. We can share what we have learned and be open about our own substance use.
Sharing Our Humanness
Being willing to be open and honest with others about our substance use can be frightening, mainly because of the power that stigma still carries surrounding addiction. By taking the risk and sharing our humanness with others, we also risk that they will abandon their stigma and realize that substance use is a part of the human condition.
There is a good chance that they might actually develop compassion and empathy, not only for us but for others who suffer from addiction. Sharing our humanness can be scary, but the rewards can also be exponential compassion.
The Power of Breaking Stigmas
When we realize for ourselves that we are not those stigmas, that we are human and that substance use is part of the human condition, we unlock power. First, the power to believe in ourselves again. Also, the power to get treatment for our substance use. We also unlock the power to change other people’s experiences by breaking stigmas. In doing so, we unlock compassion and empathy for the human condition.
We empower others to change, to help others break the barriers of stigma and find treatment. The power of our willingness to help break stigmas has a ripple effect in abolishing the shame and guilt that prevents us from getting treatment for substance use and unlocks a world of healing.
When you are willing to destigmatize substance use, you unlock the power to heal. Unlock your own healing at AToN Center by calling (888) 535-1516 today. We can help you break the barriers of stigma and heal from your substance use so that you can become an advocate for others to find their own healing. Find freedom from stigma and free your life from substances now.