Stigma is one of the hardest things people who suffer from alcohol or drug abuse have to deal with. Many people hold a negative, discriminatory attitude towards people with addiction issues. Among people suffering from any type of mental health problems, 9 out of 10 say they have experienced stigma. Some even claim that experiencing stigma is more difficult than coping with the mental illness itself.
Stigma is hugely harmful to how we think about addiction issues on a personal, up to political level. It prevents people from identifying themselves as “an addict” who needs help, and prevents them taking the proactive steps to access the treatment they need because of the shame they are afraid it will bring.
Stigma stems from the ignorant belief that addiction is the result of personal weakness, or only afflicts ‘bad’ people. This is not true. Research has demonstrated that addiction is a disease of the brain.
Addiction can affect anyone regardless of their upbringing, social status or morality.
How stigma affects someone with addiction
- You may experience discrimination from others or feel judged
- You feel ashamed or embarrassed and are likely to hide and disguise your condition from people around you
- You become isolated and alienated from your social network, prefering to drink or use drugs alone
- Your families will also experience stigma and will feel shame, embarrassment, and anger, which could be directed towards you. The stress of being related to someone with addiction problems can cause social and even medical issues for a family member.
Ways of Coping with the Stigma of Addiction
Denial is a huge barrier to successful recovery from addiction. Recognising and accepting that you suffer from a treatable addiction problem is the first step on the journey to regaining your health.
Understand the science behind addiction
At Smarmore Castle, our programme contains a vital, educational aspect. Residents learn to understand their addiction – what causes it, and how they can overcome it. This often proves to be a huge relief for people in early recovery, who may have carried harmful beliefs about their addiction being their fault.
Go to Alcoholics Anonymous / Narcotics Anonymous meetings
By attending peer-support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), or Narcotics Anonymous (NA), you will discover a network of people in the same position as you. You can offer each other mutual support throughout the recovery process. Meanwhile, ask your family and friends to attend Al-Anon meetings. These are specifically aimed at the support network of the addicted person. They help these people to understand and support their friend or family member, as well as cope with the negative effects the person’s addiction may be having on their own lives.
Talk to your therapist or sponsor
Talking to a non-judgemental and empathetic person can help to relieve the feelings surrounding stigma.
Be open and honest with your family
Having a support network is hugely beneficial to the addiction recovery process. Don’t be afraid to share your emotions and experiences of drug addiction and recovery with your family and friends. They will greatly appreciate you being honest with them, and will want to help you get better.
Practise self-care to build self-esteem
Skills such as self-care come naturally to many people, but a person with addiction will usually have forgotten this important practice. Self-care builds self-esteem which is an important element in repairing unhelpful attitudes and thought patterns surrounding addictive behaviour.