Stigma, Addiction, and Recovery

2 min read · 2 sections

A synonym for the word “stigma” is scar. And scars are the visual and permanent residue of having been hurt at some point. They remind us of mistakes. Of choices. Of events that we’ve experienced. Perhaps, even lessons that we’ve learned.

When it comes to stigmatizing those who have battled a drug addiction, or substance use disorder, it is not the job of society to remind them of mistakes they’ve made or scars that they are all-too familiar with already. After all, recovery is an ongoing process that is enhanced by compassion, patience, and the support of family and friends.

At American Addiction Centers (AAC), a nationwide leader in addiction treatment, we not only approach the subjects of substance use disorders and co-occurring mental health disorders with compassion, but we do it with a team of professionals and licensed physicians in a safe environment. We care for our patients through medical detox, treatment, and help with aftercare planning.


Socioeconomic Impact and Substance Use Disorder

People in a circle for group counseling

Addiction impacts people from all walks of life, oftentimes disproportionally so. The wealthy and the middle class aren’t immune, even though there are varying degrees of impact.

Socioeconomic status is defined as the class of an individual (or group) or their social standing. It’s often weighed based upon occupation, education, and income.

Substance use disorder is when an individual’s use of alcohol or another substance (drug) leads to health issues or challenges at home, work, or school. Although the specific cause of this particular addiction is unknown, genetics, depression, anxiety, stress, and peer pressure are possible components. Even children who are raised in homes where parents are using drugs, are at risk for developing the disorder based on genetics, as well as the environmental factor.

There are roughly 20 million people battling a substance use disorder in the United States.

Socioeconomic factors of substance abuse:

  • Income inequality.
  • Community disadvantage.
  • Individual socioeconomic status.
  • Family socioeconomic status.

Because education, income, and an individual’s occupation are connected, the level of education of an individual is also tied to substance abuse tendencies. Individuals with higher levels of education are less likely to abuse drugs. Regarding poverty versus wealth, substance abuse is more commonplace amongst impoverished families. An individual making $20,000 a year is 1/3 less likely to recover from cocaine addiction than a person who earns over $70,000 per year. The latter has the means to afford treatment. In a 2007 survey, it was reported that 23% of unemployed individuals used cocaine at least once, compared to 19% of full-time employees.


Although each individual’s recovery efforts are unique, they should include certain components in order to achieve long-term sobriety. In Psychology Today, Dr. Denise Fournier, a psychotherapist, addresses these components. There isn’t a cure for substance use disorder, but certain factors have proven effective for many in recovery.

Fundamental factors to achieving a successful recovery:

  • Belief in one’s ability to overcome obstacles.
    coffee mug that says "Time For a New Start"
  • Willingness to change.
  • Structure.
  • Support.
  • Productivity.
  • Emotional and psychological wellness.

With a strong support system in place with family, friends, and an overall aftercare plan following treatment, an individual can move past their scars, even though they still wear them. They don’t have to own the stigma, even if others buy into it.

If you or a loved one has relapsed and is struggling with a substance use disorder, you’re not alone. There are resources here to help you to achieve long-term sobriety and to live a healthy and productive life, regardless of your socioeconomic background and the stigma created by others.

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