• Nicole Arzt

Here’s How The Addiction Stigma Continues To Harm Everyone

We see it on the streets in the disheveled homeless man mumbling to himself. Where we see it on skid row, we also see it in the libraries of Ivy League campuses. It’s tucked in suburban neighborhoods, hiding in plain sight on football fields, living in the flesh and bones of chronic pain patients.


Addiction doesn’t discriminate. It’s 2020, and logically, most of us know that addiction doesn’t emerge randomly. Most of us know it’s a brain disease, one that edges beyond mere willpower and beyond the conscious choice. Most of us know that nobody wants to live a life cluttered by the chaos of addiction.


And yet, we live in a society where the stigma is pervasive, and the shame is enormous. Perhaps, we are more aware than we’ve ever been, but we’re still a marathon away from acceptance and harmony.


The Detriments of The Addiction Stigma


The addiction stigma essentially labels struggling individuals as different. This term, different, can take on many definitions, but it’s almost always a bad thing.


When we perceive people as different, it’s so easy to pinpoint how and why we’re better. In some ways, we do this as a means of survival. It’s only natural to want to be superior and dominant. This desire is ingrained into the human species; it’s evolution keeping us alive and prosperous.


But, if we look at this phenomenon from a sociopolitical framework, creating categories and using labels and clinging onto differences can create massive problems. It’s often the root cause of severe prejudice and injustice; it’s a leading component that triggers violence and war.


When we perceive people with addiction as different, it’s easy to look down on them. It’s easy to create assumptions and draw conclusions without having evidence.


How It Harms The Individual


Nobody wants to struggle with addiction. It’s consuming, demoralizing, and downright exhausting. While using drugs or alcohol may start as a choice, nobody chooses for these substances to dominate their livelihood. After all, who wants to destroy their relationships or lose all their money? Who wants to serve jail sentences or compromise their physical health?


Addiction lives in isolation and secrecy. The shame of getting caught or being exposed often results in enormous emotional distress. They fear judgment and rejection; they fear losing any semblance of the life they once worked hard to build.


Stigma only makes talking about the struggle even harder. If others know about the addiction- but judge or shame the individual for it- the person often becomes even more secretive, deceitful, or otherwise manipulative. These actions serve as a means of self-protection. If they want to stop using, but can’t, they turn to other tactics to get their needs met.

How It Harms Loved Ones


Many family members and friends also experience a whirlwind of dizzying emotions related to the individual’s addiction. These emotions may include a combination of fear, confusion, anger, sadness, and guilt. These emotions can be incredibly consuming; it’s not uncommon for loved ones to focus all their attention on the addiction.


Stigma harms loved ones because it tends to perpetuate more shame. For example, a mother may feel deeply embarrassed by her son’s addiction. She worries what her friends and neighbors will think. She has heard them make snide comments about substance use in the past. She believes they will think she is a bad mother, that she is responsible for somehow causing her son’s addiction. She feels concerned they will look down on her son and judge him for his struggles.


For these reasons, many loved ones hesitate to reach out for support. They don’t want to be blamed. They don’t want people to make assumptions about the individual's morals or ethics. Essentially, they don’t want to be in the spotlight for something society so harshly scrutinizes.


How It Harms Greater Society


When people stigmatize addiction, it makes it that much harder to locate appropriate resources and referrals for treatment. Research shows that a staggering 60 million Americans living with mental illness don’t receive the treatment they need.


This is not to say people need to love addiction! Addiction is a life-threatening, serious condition that impacts millions of people. However, the antidote for addiction lies in recovery. And recovery often lies in the hands of professional support and treatment.


While some people can stop using on their own, this path isn’t viable for everyone. And by stigmatizing addiction, people are less likely to ask for help. They’re also less likely to receive help even if they do ask.


Breaking The Addiction Stigma One Client At A Time


The addiction stigma won’t change overnight. After all, it’s a stigma that society has cultivated and reinforced for many years. Awareness and action both take time, effort, and willingness.


At The Resurface Group, we’re working hard to change the way people define, understand, and change addictive behavior. We’re not about one-size-fits-all solutions. We’re not about forcing people into labels or forcing recovery methods that don’t work. We’re about people finding their own paths towards sustainable change and growth.

Are you interested in learning more about how we can help you? Contact us today to get started.


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