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Reducing the Stigma of Substance Addiction

Reducing the Stigma of Substance Addiction

Substance addiction is a complex and challenging issue that affects millions of people in the United States. In 2022, 48.7 million people, or 17.3% of the population aged 12 or older, struggled with drug or alcohol addiction, and the numbers are increasing. Unfortunately, one of the biggest barriers to seeking help and support for addiction is the stigma that surrounds it. Stigma can prevent individuals from reaching out for help and ultimately hinder their recovery journey.

The Stigma Surrounding Substance Use Disorders 

The stigma surrounding addiction is complex and deeply ingrained in society, arising from various beliefs, misunderstandings, and historical attitudes. Below are four ways to help combat stigma.

Many people believe drug and alcohol addiction is a choice. But addiction is a chronic illness that significantly alters the brain’s functioning and an individual’s behavior. This condition is marked by an uncontrollable desire to consume drugs or alcohol despite the negative consequences it brings. 

The more we approach addiction as a disease instead of a lack of willpower, the more we can offer people suffering from addiction the compassion and support they deserve.

  • Language Matters: Shifting the Narrative                                                                                         

The way we talk about substance addiction significantly influences societal attitudes and perceptions. Labeling individuals as “addicts” or “junkies” serves to dehumanize and isolate, reinforcing harmful stereotypes. 

To combat this, a shift towards person-first language is essential. Person-first language emphasizes the individual, not the addiction, by using terms like “person with a substance use disorder” instead of reductive labels. Non-stigmatizing language fosters a more positive and constructive conversation about addiction, highlighting the individual’s identity beyond their struggles with substances. 

  • Implement Policies That Support Treatment Over Punishment                                                                   

The legal system treats substance use disorders primarily as a criminal issue rather than a health issue. The criminalization of drug use contributes to the stigma, as individuals struggling with addiction are often labeled as criminals rather than patients needing treatment.

We need to advocate for and implement policies that favor rehabilitation and treatment for individuals with substance use disorders over criminal penalties. This includes supporting drug courts, which offer treatment options, and ensuring access to medical and therapeutic services for those in need. 

  • Advocating for Policy Change                                                                                                  

Co-occurring disorders and possible negative outcomes of addiction, such as homelessness, unemployment, and health deterioration, often result in a lack of needed medical and psychiatric care. The high cost of treatment and no or insufficient insurance coverage can be significant obstacles for many people. Even with insurance, out-of-pocket expenses for therapy, medication, and other services can be prohibitive.

Expanding funding for addiction treatment and recovery services can ensure that effective, evidence-based treatment options are accessible to all who need them, regardless of their financial situation. 

Anabranch Recovery Center Can Help                                                                                                 

A treatable, chronic brain disease, addiction can affect anyone. If you or a loved one struggles with a drug or alcohol addiction, the skilled professionals at Anabranch Recovery Center, located in Terre Haute, Indiana, can help. At Anabranch, you will receive the care and treatment you need to achieve your goal of living a sober life. Now is the time to take the first step. Contact us today.

About the author

Terry Hurley is a retired educational professional and freelance writer with more than fifty years of experience. A former reading specialist and learning center director, Terry loved her years working with children in the educational field. She has written extensively for print and online publications specializing in education and health issues. For the last six years, her writing focus has been on addiction and mental health issues.

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