One of the most unfortunate components that society adds to addiction is the stigma. Despite so many advances in medicine and learning about all facets of addiction, people cling to outdated characterizations and ignorant belief systems that distance them from the people who are struggling with substance abuse. As with all walks of life, when education and compassion replace fear and ignorance, everyone is better off. But how can someone who is struggling with substance abuse overcome the stigma that too often accompanies the conversation about addiction?
Unlike many medical issues, the public perception of addiction does not match the actual definition. Throughout history, addiction has been viewed slightly differently based on the culture and the drugs ingested. According to one scientific report on the history of drugs and addiction, in our current society, alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine are all substances that are mainly used by “normal” people, as opposed to illicit “hard drugs.” This perception is flawed, but then again, stigma itself is not based on facts or the scientific method.
While the stigma surrounding those who use recreational or illicit drugs is also similarly perpetuated in the media, addiction to alcohol is not portrayed as “normal,” either. Despite so many advances in acceptance and tolerance, our society still condemns and judges those with addiction far too often. They are portrayed as somehow less than human, yet those who struggle with addiction are everyday “normal” people. They could be a mother, a teacher, our boss, or a celebrity. They could drink alcohol, be addicted to painkillers, or it could be crystal meth. The truth about addiction is that no one is immune, and the drug choice doesn’t matter as much as human suffering.
Removing stigma is difficult, but change is possible. One of the best ways is to be transparent about our own addiction to those around us. Do we risk judgment? Yes. Is there discrimination or perhaps other consequences we might face? Perhaps. But none of that will change until more people are willing to speak up about their addiction.
Stigma is a vicious cycle where societal condemnation breeds fear and hiding for those who suffer. The secretive nature of hiding feeds the stigma, which then feeds the condemnation, and so forth. To break this cycle, people need to stand up and stop hiding addiction like it is a dirty secret. By being transparent and showing that we, “normal” people, are suffering from this condition, we can change the vicious narrative that feeds this cycle.
Education is another powerful tool in changing the public perception of addiction. Teaching people that addiction can be both learned and genetic, for example, opens minds to the idea that addiction might not be a moral weakness like many believe it to be. Rather it could happen to a neighbor, a family member, or a religious leader. It could happen to any of us.
By the same token, that friend from school who got straight A’s and was a “model citizen” did not wake up one day and decide it was a good time to shoot heroin. No, it would help perception so much to know that maybe he had an accident and had back surgery, his doctor gave him pain medication, and he became addicted, eventually graduating to heroin.
Educating the public about addiction, the types of substances that are addictive, and that people from all walks of life, economic status, cultures, and more are susceptible to it can help break down the barriers of perception and judgment. Addiction isn’t some media-fueled subhuman with moral weakness. Addiction is you. It’s me. It’s all of us.
Changing the Conversation
Removing shame from our own perception of addiction can help us change the conversation. Being authentic and open and honest with ourselves and with others is how we change perception and discussion about addiction. When we exude confidence rather than shame, it is more difficult for others to put shame on us. We can be an example of someone who is “normal” and also struggles with alcohol and drug use. When we do that, we change the conversation, we change the perception of addiction to something that is also “normal.”
Be the Change
The best way to overcome the stigma of addiction is to overcome addiction by choosing recovery. We can change the way we respond to substances, we can change our thinking and our behaviors. We can change our lives. When we change our lives, others will see the change, and it will, in turn, impact their perception of what addiction is and who it looks like. When we choose healing and recovery, we are a catalyst for change in others. We could affect change in the stigma surrounding addiction, or be an inspiration for someone else to change their lives. Recovery is empowering and could have a lasting impact on more than just our own lives.
Fear of stigma is more crippling than the actual stigma itself. Don’t let fear keep you from changing the conversation around addiction. Overcoming stigma surrounding addiction starts when you choose to make a change. AToN Center is a relaxing and non-judgmental facility in a luxury setting. We are prepared to help you change your own addiction conversation and empower your life and your future.
Be a force in removing the stigma and change your life. Call AToN Center (888) 535-1516 to inspire change.