Deconstructing the Addiction Stigma

Girl is an outcast

Jana van der Linde April 17, 2020

Addiction is shackled to stigma. Society’s stigmatized turn of mind tends to see addiction as a result of moral failure and people with substance use disorder suffer the consequences. Shame, rather than compassion, underpins addiction. All too often the disgrace associated with this condition yields the decision-making power of how it is treated.  

Why is addiction stigmatized? How did it become a deep-rooted social stigma? Society’s default setting needs to be changed from fearful bias to seeing addiction as what is – a chronic brain disease warranting holistic, clinical treatment. How do we get there?

We delved a little deeper into the evolving perspectives of addiction, how it affects those with substance use disorder and how we can curb it. Here’s what surfaced.

Addiction Stigma: Treatment Models Changed, But Minds Haven’t

History, misguidedly, deemed addiction a moral or behavioral blunder. This continued throughout the 20th-century and reached a point where substance use was, and continues to be, criminalized.

Shame with emotion words, padded
Photo: John Hain

But, in recent years perspectives on addiction evolved. Neurobiology research debunked the outdated idea that addiction stems from a lapse in moral judgment or poor decision making. This broadened understanding and led to a disease model approach for treating substance use. Addiction is now clinically acknowledged as a chronic brain disease. 

In spite of this revolutionized approach, the prevailing social stigma of addiction continues to wreak havoc with recovery rates. 

Stigma Continues to Roadblock Recovery

Addiction stigma obstructs substance use prevention, treatment and ultimately recovery. The fear of stigmatization still hinders far too many people from getting the help they need. The harrowing drug-related death statistics testify to the enormity of the battle against substance use disorder. 

To address this ongoing drug epidemic society needs to scrap the shame connotated to substance use disorder.   

How To Help End Addiction Stigma 

What’s going to quash these pervasive misconceptions about addiction? There are two things we can do to help:

1. Learn the Lingo

Learning the right way to speak about substance use disorder curbs the stigma.

Language plays a pivotal role in promoting – or negating – stigma. There are compelling arguments for a higher degree of accuracy surrounding addiction terminology. Learning the right way to speak about substance use disorder curbs the stigma.  

Treatment for substance use has transformed. But, a true sign that society has shed its deep-rooted misconceptions around addiction is when non-stigmatizing terminology is the norm.

Elevating the way we speak about addiction, importantly, also abolishes self-stigmatization. Many people on the road to recovering from substance use disorder describe themselves as addicts. While this is a highly personal choice holding merit for those who find it helpful, it fundamentally points out how ingrained into the structures of society addiction stigma is.

A society cured of addiction stigma uses accurate, person-first language. It doesn’t describe someone as an addict but as a person battling addiction.

2. Be Kind

Fight substance use with kindness and compassion. A surefire way to help put an end to the stigma that shackles people with substance use disorder is, paraphrasing from the book title,  coupling-up kindness with science. Compassion paves the way for connection and this is where answers to addiction questions are often found. 

Silicon Beach Treatment Center – Where Stigma Has No Place

There’s no denying the impact of stigmatization on people battling substance use disorders is debilitating. Silicon Beach Treatment Center is a stigma-free setup where warmth, understanding and a person-centered approach leads.  
Looking for rehab in Los Angeles? Our LA addiction treatment center offers partial hospitalization and outpatient treatment programs. Get in touch today.

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