The truth is many people can attest to having experienced some form of discrimination in their life. Maybe because they look different or have done things that are “deplorable” in the eyes of society. The fact is, many addicts experience a lot of negative thoughts such as “I am not worthy,” “I am useless,” “I am not loved,” “I am no use to anyone,” and other self-degrading beliefs, due to their addiction. All these negative feelings are attributed to what researchers call shame condition.
Shame condition is when someone feels a sense of shame. The shame stems from the things they have done, or the things that have been done to them. This shame deepens when an addict experiences stigma. As a result, the addict may lose any self-confidence, self-esteem and self-love they have left and even more so, any hope of having a future.
What is Stigma?
Stigma is a perceived attitude that is generally negative, and its aim is to disapprove, discriminate, and judge a person based on their characteristics or circumstances. The cost of stigma is great because people with mental health problems, HIV, AIDS, and other disorders do not seek help or treatment to escape discrimination and judgement.
It is the same with addicts. Not many addicts are willing to seek help for their addiction for fear of being singled out or denounced by others. But what most people do not understand about stigma is that it’s not based on facts. Instead, it’s based on preconceptions, generalizations and assumptions. Therefore, its negative effects can be minimized or prevented through education.
Myths About Stigma
There are many misconceptions about substance abuse and addiction. People need to understand that addiction is a disease, like diabetes or cancer. It is only after we understand what it is and how its caused that we will be able to alter our thought process when it comes to addiction. The truth is, to overcome the stigma of addiction, we need to change our way of thinking.
Myth 1: Not everyone who tries drugs or alcohol becomes addicted. If anything, most people who do, do not become dependent on the substance.
Fact: People who struggle with substance abuse are trying to dull emotional, physical and mental and/or pain caused by past traumatic experiences.
Myth 2: You have to hit rock bottom before you realize you need help.
Fact: When you hit rock bottom, you may feel you have nothing else to lose and this belief can lead to more destructive behavior.
Myth 3: If you love your family and friends, you will stop.
Fact: Addiction is a disease, not a choice.
The Reality of Stigmatization
Stigma has many negative effects, but some are more devastating than others especially for those who are struggling with substance abuse. Below are some of the negative effects of stigma.
Unwillingness to Seek Help or Treatment
Stigma often discourages addicts from seeking treatment, and as a result their addiction intensifies. What’s worse is when an addict goes to a health provider for help, only to experience stigma from the one person who can actually assist them. Studies indicated some health providers prefer not to work with substance abusers because they feel uncomfortable. When a health provider stigmatizes a substance abuser, chances that they will treat the person are low and this can also prevent the person from seeking treatment altogether.
Mental Health and Emotional Problems
Stigma affects people’s social lives. Stress, anxiety, depression, and other negative emotions associated with stigma can affect a person’s mental health, especially if the person is an addict.
People who abuse drugs or alcohol can feel singled out. As a result, the person can become withdrawn to the point where they lose touch with their family and society as a whole. Eventually, the person may start to experience profound feelings of loneliness, depression, and sadness.
When a substance abuser has no one to talk to about their issues, it unlikely that they will seek treatment. The person may also try to hide their alcohol or drug use from friends and relatives to avoid stigma. Eventually, the person may suffer a mental breakdown when it becomes evident that they can no longer hide their addiction.
If people can educate themselves about substance abuse, it can reduce the stigma around addiction. People who stigmatize other people because of their circumstances or their characteristics do it out of ignorance and fear. In essence, they have more to be afraid of than the victim because people judge what they do not understand.
If people can learn to be compassionate, tolerant, understanding, supportive, and kind towards substance abusers, it will help reduce the stigma around the disease. Treating a person who has a substance abuse problem with respect and dignity can encourage that person to seek treatment and change their life for the better.
If you are struggling with addiction, but you are too afraid to seek treatment because of stigma and discrimination, please contact us. We can offer you the help that you need in a safe, caring environment. Call us today.
Talk to Someone Who’s Been There. Talk to Someone Who Can Help. Arizona Addiction Recovery Center holds the highest accreditation (Joint Commission) and is Arizona’s premier rehab facility since 2007. Call 888-512-1705.
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