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Changing the Stigma of Addiction

Addiction is a complex brain disease that affects every aspect of an individual’s life. With significant impact on both physical and mental health, substance use disorder is a disease that requires treatment. With millions of Americans suffering, it’s time that we change the stigma surrounding addiction.

Stigma and Addiction

Stigma is defined as the concept of powerful and negative perceptions surrounding a particular circumstance, person, or quality. In this case, the stigma surrounding addiction can potentially hinder a person’s self-esteem, damage their personal relationships, and prevent them from seeking treatment.

Family, friends, and the general public can harbor these negative feelings about substance use, behavior, and addiction. Derogatory terms such as “alcoholic”, “junkie”, and “crackhead” are often used to shame those battling addiction. Stigma is a public health issue that contributes to the increasing rates of substance-related death, incarceration, and mental health issues.

The Prevalence of Addiction

In today’s society, the stigma surrounding addiction is extremely prevalent. Despite the widespread public health crisis, negative thoughts and labels continue to perpetuate stigma. Millions of Americans are dependent on drugs or alcohol and only a small percentage receive the treatment needed for recovery. In 2014, National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 21.5 Americans age 12 and older had a substance use disorder in the previous year; however, sadly only 2.5 million received the specialized treatment they needed. Maintaining the negative stigma associated with addiction disorders only discourages individuals to seek the help they need.

Addiction does not discriminate; it can happen to anyone. Even the most understanding of families can be affected by addiction. A majority of opiate addictions start as a doctor’s prescription for pain, injury, or recovery from surgery. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, about 21 to 29 percent of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them, with about 12 of them percent developing an opioid use disorder. The same source states that about 80 percent of people who use heroin first misuse prescription opioids. It’s important that we keep these statistics in mind and do what we can to change the nation’s outlook on drug and alcohol abuse.

Underlying Conditions

Most people do not purposely intend to become addicted to drugs or alcohol. Many individuals struggling with addiction have gone down the path to dependency because of a legitimate underlying medical condition that they cannot escape.

For many, drug use starts as experimentation stemming from curiosity or peer pressure. As use becomes more frequent, the brain chemistry is altered and the body starts to become physically dependent on the drug. Others find that using drugs or alcohol as a way to curb their feelings of sadness or anxiety. Those suffering from mental health disorders often don’t know they have an underlying condition. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports over 50 percent of drug addicts to have one or more severe mental health disorders.

Psychological disorder, as well as physical injuries, are potential contributing factors to addiction. To aid in removing the stigma of addiction, physicians and treatment specialists should continue to educate people about the medical factors at work that contribute to substance use and dependence.


Addiction causes such negative attention that people may turn their backs on their close friends or family members who are addicted to drugs or alcohol. This is due to a feeling of betrayal- their family member or friend has chosen their addiction over their loved ones. They find it extremely difficult to let go of these feelings of resentment and forgive these individuals.

In the same way, those battling addictions are often unable to forgive themselves for becoming dependent. It must be highlighted that addiction is a disease, and should be treated professionally with no sense in scrutinizing by themselves or others. By encouraging forgiveness through family and individual therapy methods, medical specialists can reduce the negative stigma of addiction.

Success Stories

One of the simplest ways to end the stigma of addiction is to showcase the success stories of people who have overcome this illness. Individuals who have ignorant or uneducated on addiction may think it’s impossible for someone deep in the those of addiction to beat it. However, this is not the case. It is true that people who don’t get help will succumb to their illness, but millions of people do and end up beating the sickness every year. Ending the negative perceptions of addiction will only increase success rates.

By focusing on the positive and highlighting stories of recovery gives hope to those suffering, as well as their loved ones. Success stories can inspire others to pursue their own recovery, instead of tearing them down.

Alcohol and drug addiction is a legitimate illness that affects millions of people, and their families, each year. The negative outlook on addiction further pushes people with addiction disorders to the outskirts of society. The stigma of addiction only shames those with the sickness, decreasing their chances of recovery. Instead of perpetuating the negative thoughts and feelings surrounding addiction, it’s time that everyone removes the stigma and lead people to full recovery.