One of the biggest challenges that recovery communities face are stigmas of addiction. This isn’t a new problem, but it’s one that could be efficiently eliminated if more people received a basic addiction education.
“Stigma” stems from the Latin term stigmat, meaning “to mark” or “to brand,” but is ultimately rooted in the Greek word stizein, also meaning “to mark” or “to tattoo/puncture.”
Nowadays, stigma has evolved to be synonymous with phrases like stereotyping, labeling and discrimination. Rates of the stigma of addiction are most notably high in the general public but exist even within all levels of healthcare, including the specializations that deal with addiction directly.
Viewing or treating others differently because of a stigma (especially directly) can be damaging to these individuals’ recovery progress, and mental and physical health.
That’s why today we’re going to provide you with a basic addiction education; by the end of this article, you’ll have a more well-rounded and accurate view of addiction, an understanding of stigmas, and also know how you can contribute to reducing these stigmas.
How does an addiction start?
Some of the biggest stigmas surrounding addiction go back to the fact most people have little-to-no understanding of how addiction actually starts, and the real causes of this disorder. The truth is, there’s usually more than one factor that led to the development of an addiction.
The six most common contributing factors to addiction are genetics, a lack of fulfillment and/or purpose, the presence of other mental health conditions, peer pressure, loneliness and frequent usage of prescription drugs (most medications, including antidepressants, painkillers and sedatives, are highly addictive).
There is rarely one single cause of addiction; for most people, there are multiple elements in their lives that had been affecting them for years before manifesting as an addiction.
This is why it’s imperative to receive full-spectrum care in recovery, care that treats your mind, body, and soul; because addiction is almost never an isolated issue.
What is the stigma of addiction?
A stigma of addiction refers to the discrimination against individuals struggling with addiction, most of which have stemmed from incorrect (often outdated) beliefs around addiction that have led to the perpetuation of harmful assumptions, stereotypes and mistreatment.
Here are some of the most common (untrue) stigmas around addiction:
- Addiction stems from a lack of character or willpower
- “Once an addict, always an addict”
- Support from family and friends is all you need to recover
- Addiction is a sign of weakness and “strong people don’t get addicted”
- Recovery is a one-and-done decision
- Relapse equals failure
Awareness around stigmas is just the first step, though; actually applying your knowledge to enact positive change in your life is the next.
How to reduce the stigma of addiction
The number one way you can do your part in stopping the stigma of addiction is to be mindful of the language you use around addiction and those struggling with addiction. One of the most common and negatively influential words that promote stigma is “addict.”
By referring to someone as an addict (whether they’re actively fueling an addiction or in recovery from one), you source that entire individual’s identity in the disorder they’ve developed.
Here are some additional phrases to replace in your vocabulary:
- Drug habit (alternative: addiction)
- Addict/junkie/abuser/drunk (alternative: a person with a substance use disorder)
- Clean (alternative: sober, in recovery, or negative, if referencing test results)
- Failed (alternative: relapsed, or experienced a setback)
Navigating addiction can be overwhelming and even scary at times, but it’s not something you ever have to go through alone.
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