Overcome Addiction Stigma for a Successful Recovery

May 16, 2014

There are many problems that accompany substance abuse, least among them the physical toll that alcohol or drug use takes on the body. Addiction treatment centers are effective at helping someone with a history of drug abuse get back on his or her feet. Professional medical and psychiatric specialists may be the best option that many people struggling with drug abuse have when it comes to recovery.

However, as effective as rehab programs are at healing the body and the mind after substance abuse, there are some things that they cannot cure. Many people have encountered some form of public stigma associated with addiction during their lives, and while this may seem harmless, hostile or uninformed opinions on recovery and sobriety may keep many people from seeking help. Even though this stigma may still be prevalent and strong at times, overcoming it can be a major victory in a person’s journey toward recovery.

Why Addiction Carries a Stigma

Understanding the best ways to beat the stigma of addiction starts with learning why there is a negative perception of the condition in the first place. Writing for Salon magazine, Richard Juman, M.D., outlined the various ways in which substance abuse has gained a poor reputation among the general public.

First, Juman underscored the impact that years of negligence from the medical establishment has had on the public perception of addiction. By not categorizing obsessive patterns of substance abuse as a physical illness, the health care industry placed the blame of addiction onto the individuals it affected. The public then vilified those with substance abuse issues as personally responsible for their actions and crimes.

Recent years have seen the medical industry become more understanding of addiction-related conditions, though the stigma around it still remains.

Juman also explained that this stigma follows those with histories of substance abuse around even after they complete a treatment program. Other people may feel skittish or on edge around a person with a history of substance abuse, as they may feel that relapse could happen at any moment. While other forms of stigmatization may be more actively hostile to those who have abused drugs or alcohol, this kind can keep people from being accepted back into society to the same degree.

Overcoming the Addiction Stigma

While the physical effects of drug and alcohol abuse pose their own obstacles to recovery, the mental limitations caused by public stigma over addiction may contribute to an individual’s hesitance as well. For that reason, pushing through public perception and getting treatment can be a difficult transition for some people.

Speaking to Boston Magazine, addiction specialist Steven Kassels, M.D., emphasized that the first step in improving addiction treatment around the country is removing the stigma associated with the condition.

I think the most important thing is to de-stigmatize and to set up programs – local programs – that educate and that make it easy for people to enter treatment and to stay in treatment,” Kassels told the news source.

Kassels emphasized that a negative public perception of addiction also reduces funding for treatment programs around the country. If local populations are unwilling to address issues surrounding substance abuse, then city and state governments may give less funding to addiction treatment services. This attitude bubbles up, Kassels said, until nobody is really addressing the problem at all.

There are so many obstacles to substance abuse treatment already that the added pressure of a stigma may keep some people from seeking help. However, breaking through that hostility may lead to more successful recoveries across the board.

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