The Stigma of Addiction

The Stigma of Addiction

When the average person hears the word “addict”, there will most likely be immediate judgments made. Whether or not you like it, unfortunately its how societies around the world have been shaped. People, especially those who have never directly or indirectly experienced addiction, tend to think that an addict is a “burnout, criminal, or second class citizen”. As depressing as this reads, it’s the truth. Substance abusers, communities of recovering people, high profile individuals and celebrities are ruthlessly scorned and exploited as soon as their addiction surfaces.

In the United States, The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction as a “primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry.” Whereas, in the UK and Australia, experts often look at addiction as being related to deeply rooted psychological or emotional traumas or chronic physical disorders. In any case, the idea that a person chooses to be enthralled in the cycle of drug and alcohol abuse is often not the issue. So, why do people tend to automatically think of addiction as a failure? Why do some people call an addict a low life? And why do governments who claim to view addiction as a disease or deeply rooted issue constantly try to fight the abuse with their “War on Drugs”? This clearly only leads to criminal prosecution and further problems. It’s also a contradiction in that it does not at all address any issue - deeply rooted or not. Politics and agendas aside, there is a very obvious stigma of addiction. This stigma is prevalent in nearly all countries, communities, religions, ethnicities and cultures. It’s also one of the most debilitating stigmas and no doubt holds the progression of humanity back tenfold.

In a past study, a group of people were asked to assess their first impression of the word “drug addict”. The majority of people stated that it was a “disoriented, unhealthy, thin, low-class, male “hippie” with behavioral and skin problems who suffered from a disease.” It’s a sad fact because people who abuse alcohol or drugs come in all shapes and sizes. Men, women, executives, chefs, teachers and doctors; everyone is essentially susceptible to abuse. The risk increases however when there are environmental, psychological, physical or emotional stressors coinciding with using.

The very thought that anyone abusing drugs or alcohol is weak or any less worthy of care and compassion as well as treating these human beings as if they are second class citizens is more than likely one of the primary contributors to the high mortality rate, societal challenges and furthering problems. Consider the following issues which contribute to the stigmas of an addiction.

Avoiding Treatment - The very thought of going to an addiction treatment center can be incredibly off-putting. This is partly to do with fears of being labeled as an addict, junkie, alcoholic, etc and that this very stigma will continue to be with them even after years of recovery. A person with an addiction may have so much fear, guilt or shame that they would rather suffer the consequences of using rather than ask for help. By removing the stigma of being “an addict”, there would more than likely be an influx of people talking to their doctor, boss or rehab about getting help.

Ignoring the Addiction - The medical system, especially Western modules, is set up to (more or less) to make a quick assessment and plastify (band-aid) the issue. All too often doctors ignore the potential that an addiction is factor in an individual’s health crisis. Moreover, because of the stigmas attached with addiction there may be hesitation or even unwillingness to recommended adequate treatment options.

Ignoring Underlying Psychological Disorders - Up to 50% of all people with addictions have an underlying psychological disorder such as depression, PTSD, bipolar disorder, OCD or schizophrenia. It’s commonplace for rehab centers to identify these co-occurring issues after spending excessive amounts of time with the individual. The reality is that in many instances these mental health issues were causing/enabling the addiction. Alternatively, the drug and alcohol abuse were worsening the symptoms of the mental health disorder. In any case, this causes a cycle which is incredibly difficult to escape.

Getting Sent to Jail or Prison - One of the biggest stigmas of addiction is when a person gets charged, prosecuted and sent to jail because they possessed something they were seriously addicted to. It’s worth noting at this point that there are certain drugs that can be lethal when immediately discontinued including alcohol and benzodiazepines. It’s not uncommon for a person to walk out of a pharmacy without paying and diabetes medicine in hand only to be let off the hook with sympathy. Is there a difference?

This criminal prosecution only furthers the problem and comes with a high risk in that the individual will continue their using or overall path in life when they get out. There is little to no sympathy, help or treatment. It’s a failed system that proves to not work. By getting rid of the stigmas of addiction, there becomes a greater chance for societal and personal prevention and treatment.

Always an “Addict” - Perhaps one of the worst, most challenging stigmas of an addiction is when a person has made it all the way to a healthy, stable recovery only to be presumed as someone who could relapse at anytime. The dangerous, but popular saying “once an addict, always an addict” is still widely believed to be true. It has a detrimental impact on the recovering person, their life and their families. It causes constant questioning, presumptions and labeling. It hinders growth and character building; two vital aspects of recovery. Rebuilding a life while trying to ignore this addiction stigma can be overwhelming to anyone and lead to an array of mixed emotions.

What if there were no stigmas of addiction? Think about that question. Would there really be any harm or repercussions to getting rid of these stigmas? Many addiction professionals don’t think so and actually believe it would have positive outcomes in communities worldwide. For now it is with hope that things will start to change for the better. It only takes a single person to change their mindset for others to soon follow.

If you are not stopped by the stigmas of addiction and ready to get help at a rehab in Thailand, please contact Serenity Chiang Rai today.