Who Answers?

The Stigma of Addiction

855 339 1112

Addiction: Breaking the Stigma

Stigma only causes shame and guilt. It does not help anybody, especially since these are just stereotypes associated with addicted individuals and not facts.

What is Stigma?, What is Addiction?, Myth: Addiction is a Choice, Myth: People with Substance Use Disorders are Weak, Why Addiction Stigma is Dangerous, How to Break the Stigma of Drug Addiction, Rehab is Your Best Chance


When people hear the term “addiction”, they usually think of things like needles, mug shots, jail cells, and dark alleys. This is just one of the indicators that there is still a stigma surrounding addiction even today. There are plenty of myths and misconceptions about addiction that affect everyone who are actually struggling with the condition.

Addiction stigma refers to strong, negative perceptions associated with drug use, alcohol use, and addiction. Some people believe that people who abuse drugs or alcohol are weak or moral failures. These beliefs are wrong and it is important to break the stigma of addiction.

Stigma only causes shame and guilt. It does not help anybody, especially since these are just stereotypes associated with addicted individuals and not facts. Addiction can happen to anyone regardless of race, gender, age, or economic status.

Stigma is a serious matter. Millions of people in the US are struggling with substance use disorder, but only a small percentage receive the treatment they need because of the powerful social stigma surrounding those who are addicted.

Addicted individuals are not to blame for their addiction. It is a chronic disease that can alter the physical structure of the brain, affecting the way it functions. But stigma presents them as weak-willed individuals or failures rather than simply being human. Stigma prevents people from getting proper addiction treatment, which continues the destructive cycle of substance abuse and social stigma.

Stigma even contributes to high death rates, rates of incarceration associated with drug abuse, and co-occurring mental health disorders among addicted populations.


What is Stigma?


Stigma is a set of negative beliefs held by a group of people or society regarding another group of people. The World Health Organization (WHO) names stigma as a major cause of discrimination and exclusion. It contributes to human rights abuses because addicted individuals are seen as less because of their health status.

Instead of being based on facts, stigma is based on preconceptions, generalizations, and assumptions. This leads to rejection, avoidance, prejudice, and discrimination. It also creates derogatory works like “crackhead”, “alcoholic”, and “junkie”, which are labels that perpetuate stigma.

According to a study from Johns Hopkins University, drug addiction is often viewed more negatively than mental illness, despite both being treatable health conditions.

Stigma prevents people from getting the care that they need. The good news is that today, parity legislation along with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) now require insurance companies to cover substance use disorder treatment in the same way that they cover other medical conditions. This is just one step in the right direction towards combating addiction stigma.

There’s still more to be done in order to break the stigma and encourage people to seek addiction treatment services from health care providers. To reduce stigma, people must educate themselves and learn everything they can about what addiction truly is.


What is Addiction?

First let’s talk about what addiction is. Addiction is a medical condition that is characterized by the compulsive use of drugs or alcohol even when the user is already suffering from its adverse effects. Addicted people will keep taking drugs or drinking alcohol despite the physical, mental, and social consequences. This is not something they can control. Certain substances can alter the parts of the brain that control motivation, emotion, pleasure, and memory. This leads to addiction.

Addictive drugs can cause the brain to release excessive amounts of dopamine, which is the neurotransmitter that is associated with pleasure and motivation. With a rush of dopamine, the person feels a euphoric high. This conditions the brain into seeking out the pleasant sensation and recreating it as often as possible.

There’s also the fact that after releasing too much dopamine, the body now struggles to feel naturally happy. This is why addicted individuals often lose interest in the things they used to enjoy.

The brain also stores this memory of quick and easy pleasure. Once the drug wears off, the person is left feeling unhappy and uninterested. The addicted person may also develop withdrawal symptoms whenever the try to quit the substance. The cycle of drug abuse begins there.

Some people are more at risk of developing a substance addiction. The more risk factors a person is exposed to, the more likely it is that they will develop an addiction later in life.

Risk factors include taking drugs at a young age, getting pressured by your friends, growing up in a toxic environment, or having a family history of substance abuse. Those who have co-occurring mental health problems like depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, and schizophrenia are also at a greater risk of becoming addicted.

While there is no exact way to predict who is going to develop an addiction, factors like genetics and environment play a huge role in it.

Myth: Addiction is a Choice

Here we will address some common myths regarding addiction. The most common one is that people choose to get addicted.

There is an overwhelming amount of scientific evidence that shows this is not the case. Addiction is a chronic disease that is linked with disruptions within the brain. These disruptions cause drug-seeking behavior. They also reduce a person’s sensitivity to pleasure while increasing their sensitivity to stress. Overall, it can diminish executive functioning of the brain.

However, due to stigma, people are afraid of seeking help from treatment providers because addiction is seen as a taboo subject. Education is overshadowed by fear, which only perpetuates more myths about this real medical condition.

People would never blame someone for developing cancer, diabetes, or any other medical condition. You cannot just choose to stop being addicted. Addiction is not a choice.

Even if someone voluntarily takes drugs or alcohol to try it out, once they are addicted, they are no longer in control. An addicted person does not want to stay addicted. But even if they tried, their brain is wired to seek out the drug.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) continues its research on the biomedical and environmental factors around substance use in order to support evidence-based understanding of addiction.

Addicted people do not have control over their addiction. However, they can always make the choice to seek help. The addiction journey is long and difficult, but it’s even harder to stay addicted.

Myth: People with Substance Use Disorders are Weak

Even if addiction brings out a lot of emotions, pain, and suffering, this does not mean the person is weak. Emotions do not make you weak. They simply make you human.

Facing the physical and psychological effects of addiction is no easy feat. Just because they can’t quit on their own doesn’t mean they are weak either. Addiction is not a matter of willpower. They need proper medical support in order to quit and make significant progress towards sobriety. It’s a long process.

Addicted people shouldn’t try to be “brave” and quit cold turkey just because they do not want to be perceived as weak. Seeking help is the right thing to do. Getting support from addiction experts and healthcare professionals is the best way to beat this condition, regardless of the stigma.

Remember that willpower alone won’t save you from addiction. You need to go through addiction treatment, learn the proper coping mechanisms, and gradually lower your drug or alcohol intake through medical detox.

Getting addicted is not a sign of weakness. But admitting you have a problem and looking for treatment options takes a lot of strength.

Why Addiction Stigma is Dangerous

The stigma of addiction leads to discrimination. It prevents people from getting the help that they need. It even reduces the quality of care for people in recovery.

People often engage in risky behaviors without getting judged for it. Some people participate in extreme sports, stay seated for most of the day, or eat unhealthy foods on a regular basis. Despite these conscious decisions, we do not judge people for going to the emergency room after a heart attack or an accident. Instead they are met with compassion and understanding.

This should be the case for people who developed an addiction. But others tend to dehumanize people who have developed this condition. They do so out of fear, disgust, or anger. Even healthcare providers may sometimes discriminate against addicted individuals out of their own biases.

The stigma surrounding addiction causes treatment providers to come up short when it comes to providing addiction treatment. Whether it’s for an opioid use disorder, alcohol use disorder, or any other type of addiction, people need proper treatment and stigma gets in the way of that.

Making someone feel bad will not help them get better. This only pushes them further away, keeping them from recovering out of shame, fear, or loneliness.

How to Break the Stigma of Drug Addiction

The stigma of addiction needs to be erased so that more people can be encouraged to go to rehab and make their lives better. Stigma comes from a place of fear because we do not talk about addiction enough. These misconceptions rise because people do not have enough information about addiction.

The best way to break the stigma is to start talking about it. Education and conversations surrounding this topic should help reduce stigma surrounding this brain disease. Understanding addiction creates compassion for those who need your help. Stay away from judgmental terms when talking about this topic. Eliminate all your biases and have conversations with those who are actually suffering from this condition.

Become an expert in the topic. Compile resources that are informative and reliable and start sharing them with people you know. Start with resources from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the National Behavioral Health Council, and the American Society of Addiction Medicine.

Become an advocate against addiction stigma and spread the message using social media. If you are dealing with addiction yourself, do not be afraid to share your story and find people online who are going through the same thing. Tell them about your own recovery journey and inspire more people seek treatment.

Breaking the stigma of addiction is not going to be an easy task, but you can do your part to help end the discrimination against people in recovery. If you or someone you love is dealing with an addiction, look for a rehab facility near you today and learn more about available treatment options.


Rehab is Your Best Chance

Treatment is an addicted individualʼs best option if they want to recover. Beating an addiction not only requires eliminating the physical dependence, but also addressing the behavioral factors that prevent them from wanting to get better. Simply quitting may not change the psychological aspect of addiction. Some people quit for a while, and then take drugs or alcohol again, only to overdose because they did not detox properly. Recovery involves changing the way the patient feels, thinks, and behaves.

author avatar
Fel Clinical Director of Content
Felisa Laboro has been working with addiction and substance abuse businesses since early 2014. She has authored and published over 1,000 articles in the space. As a result of her work, over 1,500 people have been able to find treatment. She is passionate about helping people break free from alcohol or drug addiction and living a healthy life.

Addiction Treatment Centers For
Drugs, Alcohol and Prescription Drug Abuse

Call Now