We’ve come a long way since the days when people thought addiction was a moral failing. 12-Step programs like AA and NA have done a lot to spread the idea that addiction is a disease. And more recently, the opioid epidemic in the US has brought more public attention to the true causes of addiction. Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go. One poll by AP-NORC conducted in 2018 found that a slight majority of Americans–53 percent–now view addiction as a disease that requires medical treatment. [http://www.apnorc.org/news-media/Pages/AP-NORC-Poll-Most-Americans-see-drug-addiction-as-a-disease.aspx] Unfortunately, the poll found some less encouraging news too. Forty-four percent of respondents said addiction was caused by a lack of willpower or discipline and 33 percent it was a sign of a character flaw. Fewer than 20 percent said they would closely associate with someone with a substance use disorder as a friend, neighbor, or colleague. And this attitude affects how many people seek treatment. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that of people who believe they need addiction treatment but don’t seek it, 13.5 percent were afraid their neighbors or communities would have a negative opinion of them and 11.9 percent were afraid it would affect their work. [https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-DR-FFR2-2016/NSDUH-DR-FFR2-2016.htm] The good news is there are things each of us can do to help reduce the stigma associated with addiction.
Educate yourself about addiction and its causes.
Fighting the stigma of addiction means first understanding it better yourself. Even people who have struggled with substance use often hold mistaken beliefs about addiction, treatment, and recovery. We are constantly learning more about the causes of addiction and how to treat it. For example, it’s important to know that scientists have identified many genes related to addiction and that mental illness and childhood environment are major risk factors for developing an addiction.
Use compassion when speaking about addiction.
One of the most important ways to fight the stigma of addiction is to be careful about how you talk about it. Especially beware of stigmatizing, dehumanizing, or disparaging language. Words like “junkie” or “crackhead” should always be avoided but also watch out for language that isn’t overtly disparaging but is labeling or dismissive. The phrase, “once an addict, always an addict” combines both of these. In general, when you talk about addiction, imagine that you are talking about a problem that affects someone close to you, perhaps a best friend, sibling, or child.
Encourage others to get help.
If you think someone close to you has a substance use issue, talk to her about it. Listen to what she has to say and try to understand. Don’t judge or criticize. Instead, express your concern and support and encourage her to seek help. Consider sharing your own experience with substance use issues if it’s relevant and appropriate.
Correct mistakes when you hear them.
When you hear others repeat common misconceptions about addiction, correct them. Most people don’t repeat these things maliciously; they might even mean well but they just aren’t aware their information is wrong or outdated. Challenging mistaken beliefs helps prevent them from spreading.
At Fort Worth Recovery, we offer a safe, nurturing, and healing space for men and women to find recovery from the multifaceted disease of addiction. Our team believes in inspiring each client to face their challenges, discover the root of their problems, and reclaim their lives. If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, call us today at 817-381-9741 or contact us through our admissions page.