Addiction stigma is a mark of disgrace created and imposed by society that unfairly and inaccurately stereotypes people who are suffering from a substance use disorder, a condition in which the use of one or more substances causes significant impairment on health and daily lives. According to the commonly held stereotype, addicts are to blame for their disease because they lack the willpower or the character to stop abusing drugs or alcohol.
Data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that 22.7 million people in the United States needed professional treatment for a problem related to drugs or alcohol within the course of a single calendar year. That’s nearly 9% of the population. What this number doesn’t tell us, though, is the number of people adversely affected by a loved one’s struggle with addiction. If you are experiencing feelings of guilt, shame or inadequacy about your role in your child’s substance use disorder, you should know that you are not alone. Something else you need to know? In many cases, your child’s addiction isn’t your fault.
In this article, we’re going to dig deeper into the harmful effects of addiction stigma and unnecessary parental guilt. Let’s start with addiction stigma:
Addiction stigma isn’t just about blaming the victims of substance use disorder. It’s about publicly shaming them and marginalizing their place in society. Deadbeats. Junkies. Hurtful words like these are all too commonly used to describe people who are suffering from what can only be defined as a chronic, often debilitating mental illness. Addicts are not deadbeats or junkies, they’re people who are suffering and need professional help.
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Be this as it may, many addicts come to internalize these labels along with intense feelings of shame, regret, guilt and hopelessness. This heavy emotional weight – the direct result of unfair addiction stigma – is what often prevents our loved ones from reaching out for the help they need. And, the longer a substance use disorder goes untreated, the more likely it is to result in permanent physical damage or even death.
For those of you who are tired of watching a loved one struggle with the stigma of addiction, there are ways you can help. Here’s how to get started:
The medical profession knows a great deal more about the chronic nature of addiction than it did even just a decade ago. From the way addiction works to its widespread prevalence, we are learning more about substance use disorders every day. By educating yourself, your loved one and even other family members, you can begin chiseling away at the wall of stigma keeping addicts from treatment. Feel free to browse the content on our website to get started, or check out these great resources:
In many cases, people struggling with addiction are severely critical of themselves. They don’t need to feel judged by the people close to them. Instead, try to focus on understanding your loved one’s pain and the underlying emotions that might be contributing to both the chemical dependence and the fear of asking for help.
One of the best ways to fight back against addiction stigma is to reassure addicted loved ones that they are not alone. Simply knowing that someone is there to support them before, during and after addiction rehab can be enough to give them the courage to ask for help.
Addiction doesn’t just impact the person with the substance use disorder. It also affects everyone around that person. Over time, this can and probably will take a toll on you. This is why we recommend connecting with an addiction support group for family members of addicted loved ones. Just being able to talk to other people who understand what you’re going through can help you relieve stress and give you new insight on how to help your loved one. Here are some support groups in the Colorado area:
It’s only natural to feel at least partially responsible for your child’s addiction. But, what we know today is that even if parents do all the right things, some children may still come to suffer from a substance use disorder. How do we know? At The Raleigh House, we work with parents who fit this description all the time.
The fact remains that many factors outside of your direct control can play a role in your child’s mental health. And, whether the mental health problem manifests as clinical depression, generalized anxiety, substance use disorder or some combination of the above, you are no more to blame for it than the occurrence of any other chronic illness.
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Need more proof that your child’s addiction is not your fault? Check out this article:
Some feelings of guilt are completely rational. For example, if you are a verbally, emotionally or physically abusive parent, then feeling guilty about your role in your child’s addiction is totally appropriate. On the other hand, if your child’s addiction has more to do with inherent genetic risk factors or it can be attributed to a traumatic experience beyond your control, feeling guilty is needlessly self-punishing and unhelpful.
Try as you might, you can’t control every facet of your child’s life. Don’t let yourself get caught up in an endless cycle of hypothetical “what if” questions.
Would you have done things differently as a parent had you known your child was headed down a path toward addiction? Sure, you would have. However, that doesn’t make you culpable for your loved one’s substance use disorder.
Addicts are very good at placing blame everywhere but on themselves. As painful as this is, you can’t allow your addicted child to substitute his or her distorted reality for what you know to be the truth.
If someone you care about is struggling with addiction, don’t wait to get help. We offer comprehensive addiction rehab in Colorado that focuses on treating the person as a whole – not just a set of symptoms. Our drug treatment program combines nutrition and exercise with both group and individual counseling led by master’s-level addiction therapists. Fill out our form, or call today.