The stigma surrounding the disease of addiction is literally killing people.
There has been increasing effort by the media and administration to educate everyone that substance abuse is in fact a disease. Addiction is characterized by an “allergy of the body and an obsession of the mind.” The two pronged aspect of this disease makes it necessary for those afflicted by it to gain outside help to recover.
There is a major road block when it comes to getting people into treatment for drug and alcohol addiction. Some estimate that for every ten people who want treatment there is only enough treatment resources for one.
Tragically, for many, the stigma of identifying with this disease is worse than death.
Complications of Prejudice
An enormous amount of misinformation and a high prevalence of myths regarding the topic of addiction works only to compound and further the negative images of this disease.
According to the National Surveys on Drug Use and Health (NSDUHs) from 2009 to 2011 over 27% of those who suffer from mental health and/or drug addiction do not seek help due to the stigma that surrounds the disease.
Derogatory terms like “junkie,” “tweaker” and many others work to segregate and ostracize people. These all too common terms show the tendency to generalize and dehumanize people who are suffering from an illness. We do not shame cancer patients, but we as a society have a tendency to villainize people struggling with substance abuse.
The lack of understanding of the nature of this disease can even lead someone who is seeking guidance to avoid places and programs of recovery based solely on gossip. It is common to hear warnings of danger and encouragements of fear regarding the twelve step programs and treatment centers.
Rarely do people proudly announce when they graduate from a rehab program, but they should.
Post Detox: The Stigma Persists
The stigma doesn’t end with active use. Even for people who are in long-term recovery discrimination still occurs.
People who have been abstinent from drugs and alcohol for years still find themselves faced with a choice, either live a double life or live with discrimination. Images of some of the most extreme cases come to mind and are incorrectly applied to anyone who identifies as having a substance abuse problem.
It is no small feat to have overcome a debilitating disease of addiction. Instead of meeting people in recovery with suspicion and fear we should celebrate and commend their achievement.
It seems that the old idiom that “words can hurt” is taken to new heights when it comes to substance abuse disorders. For those struggling with addiction, getting help is a matter of life and death.
The numbers are staggering. An estimated 24 million Americans, or 1 in 10 adults, have a problem with alcohol or drugs. The denial of far too many is perpetuated by the stigma and fear of being stereotyped.
It is archaic and inhumane for people to be prevented from getting the necessary help simply as a consequence of stigma. What is more important, solving the problem or playing the blame game?