Although we’ve come a long way in understanding addiction, there is still a stigma attached to it. While most people now see addiction as a disease, they are still reluctant to associate with people struggling with addiction. The stigma of addiction isn’t only a matter of some people feeling offended; it’s a major impediment to people getting help. When addiction is stigmatized, people are less likely to admit to themselves they have a problem. They are averse to labelling themselves ‘addicts’. Even when they admit to having a problem, they are less likely to get help. Surveys show that fear of being labeled an addict is a major reason people don’t seek treatment. Finally, communities that view addiction as a disease that requires treatment have more resources and better support for people in recovery. Attitudes matter. Here are some ways you can help reduce the stigma associated with addiction.
Learn as much as you can. There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about addiction. For example, some believe addiction is just a lack of willpower, or that medication-assisted treatment, or MAT, is just trading one addiction for another. While we still have a lot to learn, there is a lot of solid research on many aspects of addiction, including the efficacy of therapies, 12-step programs, and MAT. In news coverage, look for reputable sources, especially research from major universities. When you know more about addiction you can help stop the spread of misinformation.
Be careful what you say. The language you use to describe people can influence how you think about them. Too often, people speak about addiction in ways that are dismissive or disparaging. Addiction is a life-threatening condition and people struggling with addiction are in a hard fight. Try to speak from a place of empathy and compassion.
Acknowledge your own struggles with addiction. Part of the reason addiction is so misunderstood is that it’s mostly invisible. People struggling with addiction almost always try to hide it, so few people are aware they know someone with a problem. By being honest about your own struggles, you let people know that addiction takes many forms and you never know whose life it will touch. It will also encourage others to admit their problem and get help.
Push back against uninformed talk. When the topic of addiction comes up, everyone has an opinion. Don’t be afraid to politely disagree when you hear something wrong. Even if you don’t convince the person who is wrong, you may sway others who are listening. You get more accurate information out there and don’t cede territory to destructive ideas.