How to Beat Down the Stigma of Addiction

Medical professionals have recognized the disease of addiction for decades, but it’s been a longer road to acceptance for law enforcement and society. The stigma associated with addiction keeps people from getting the help they need and undermines the effectiveness of treatment and recovery. People living in recovery shouldn’t feel powerless against feelings of shame; there are many ways to fight stigma.

How the Opioid Crisis Forces People to Understand Addiction

Perhaps nothing has highlighted addiction as effectively as the current opioid crises. Due to a number of factors, including the overprescribing of pain relievers, the number of overdose deaths from opioids continues to rise. In a statistically significant arc that concerns people all over the nation, opioid overdose deaths quadrupled from 1999 to 2015. More than 33,000 people died from an overdose in 2015, more than any previous year.2

The current rate of opioid use, with around 3.8 million Americans misusing pain relievers,1 forces many people to reconsider their ideas about addiction. Instead of assuming it’s an inner-city problem or a low-income problem, many people now admit addiction affects people of all classes and races.

Opioid use first shifted to the suburbs and other populations partly because of new attitudes about prescription drugs that developed 20 years ago. Users didn’t associate pain relievers with scarier, illicit drugs like heroin and didn’t understand the dangers of addiction or withdrawal. When many of the pill users switched to heroin for its cheaper, faster high, the demographics of heroin use also shifted to more affluent suburban and rural areas with primarily white populations.3

With so many people dying of drug overdoses, more local and state governments must re-examine their policies. Some cities, for  example, now make the overdose-reversing drug naloxone available without a prescription. Previously this drug was hard to get, often as a result of stigma associated with addiction.4

Ways to Fight Stigma

While more people understand addiction due to the opioid crises, there is still plenty of shame and misunderstanding surrounding the disease. Someone may judge an addict for his disease and believe he is weak and lacks willpower. An addict may self-stigmatize and get bogged down in negative thoughts. In addition to personal judgments, there are institutional biases that make life harder for a recovering addict. In some areas, it’s harder for people in recovery to find a job or a place to live.5

Addiction advocates recommend that people who know about addiction talk about the disease in an honest way. They should demand the same coverage for addiction and mental health treatment that they receive for other medical conditions. They should reach out to state lawmakers and talk about the importance of making it safe for pregnant women to get treatment without fearing incarceration or eliminating legal barriers for recovering addicts to get jobs.6

As public awareness grows, government agencies, schools and addiction treatment specialists should communicate about the disease. Everyone in society should hear stories about the positive side of recovery. People in the position to make decisions, such as lawmakers and landlords, need personal meetings with experts who can explain how treatment works and the biological aspects of addiction.7

Getting Help

If you or someone you know needs addiction treatment, contact The Oaks at La Paloma. Our admissions coordinators take calls 24 hours a day and answer any questions you have about the treatment process, including financing and logistics.

1Drug overdose deaths in the United States continue to increase in 2015.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. July 2014. 16 Dec. 2016. Accessed 26 June 2017.

2 Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. “Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.” HHS Publication No. SMA 16-4984, NSDUH Series H-51. 2016. Accessed 26 June 2017.

3 Cicero, Theodore J., Ellis, Matthew S., Surratt, Hilary L. and Kurtz, Steven P. “The Changing Face of Heroin Use in the United States.” JAMA Psychiatry, July 2014. Accessed 26 June 2017. Retrieved Apr. 19, 2016 from

4 Tuoti, Gerry and Gallerani, Kathryn. “The Stigma of Addiction: Study suggests greater role in naloxone distribution.” Wicked Local Plymouth. 29 Apr. 2017. Accessed 26 June 2017.

5 Woll, Pamela. “Healing the Stigma of Addiction: A Guide for Treatment Professionals.” March 2005. Accessed 26 June 2017.

6 Rosenbloom, David L. “Coping With the Stigma of Addiction.” HBO Addiction. Accessed 26 June 2017.

7 Livingston, J.D.; Milne, T.; Fang, M.L. &Amari, E. “The effectiveness of interventions for reducing stigma related to substance use disorders: a systematic review.” Addiction, Vol. 107, No. 1, pp. 39-50, 2012. Accessed 26 June 2017.

Articles posted here are primarily educational and may not directly reflect the offerings at The Oaks. For more specific information on programs at The Oaks, contact us today.