Kreed Kleinkopf
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April 17, 2023

Overcoming Shame & Stigma: Asking for Help With Addiction

Over the years, much progress has been made in reducing the stigma surrounding certain medical conditions, such as HIV and cancer. However, the same cannot be said for substance use disorders. Those struggling with addiction often face blame and shame for their condition, which can lead to a lack of understanding, support, and effective treatment. Overcoming addiction stigma is crucial to helping people get the help they so desperately need.

Despite the recognition of addiction as a disease, many individuals still view it as a personal choice or moral failure. In fact, research shows that addiction is more highly stigmatized than other health issues like mental illness. In fact:

  • Only 22% will work with a person struggling with drug addiction compared to 62% who will work with a person with a mental health issue. 
  • 90% are unwilling to have a person with an addiction to a prescription opioid marry into their family, compared to 59% for mental illness.
  • 64% feel that those with a drug addiction should not be hired, compared to 25% for those with a mental disorder. 
  • 43% feel people with a drug addiction should not get the same health insurance benefits as those given to the public, whereas 21% oppose granting the same benefits to people with mental illness.
  • 54% support the idea that landlords should be able to deny housing to those struggling with drug use issues, while only 15% believe the same for people with mental illness. 
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These statistics highlight the extent of stigma and discrimination those struggling with substance abuse face. The negative attitudes and beliefs towards people with substance use disorders are deeply ingrained in society and often result in individuals facing isolation, shame, and difficulty accessing support and treatment. And when the country is waging war on drugs due to the opioid crisis, it is more important than ever to address the stigma and discrimination towards people struggling with substance abuse.

Stigma increases the risk of opioid overdose cases by discouraging people from seeking help due to fear of rejection. It can also prevent people in recovery from being able to fully reintegrate into society, impacting their employment, housing, and social opportunities. It is important to challenge these stigmatizing beliefs and attitudes toward addiction and promote empathy, understanding, and support for those struggling with addiction. Ending stigma is the best way to save lives.

Understanding Addiction Stigma

Stigma refers to negative attitudes, beliefs, and stereotypes that are attached to individuals or groups based on certain characteristics or circumstances, such as addiction. Stigma can create a barrier for individuals seeking help or support and exacerbate feelings of shame, guilt, low self-worth, and isolation.

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According to the 2021 survey by NSDUH, 40.7 million adults with substance use disorders did not get treatment at a specialty facility. Of this number, 39.5 million (96.8%) didn't feel like they needed treatment, and 837,000 (2.1%) believed they needed care but didn't try to get treatment.

Some examples of stigma towards those with addiction include:

  • Not using person-first language and referring to those with addiction as "junkies," "alcoholics," or other derogatory terms.
  • Assuming that those with addiction are criminals or dangerous to society.
  • Believing that addiction is a choice or that individuals with addiction lack motivation or self-control.
  • Refusing to hire individuals with a history of addiction, despite their qualifications and skills.
  • Avoiding or ostracizing individuals with addiction.

Stigma related to heavy drinking and illegal drug use can come from various sources, including primary care physicians, friends, family, employers, media, and society. The justice system also contributes to stigma because it incarcerates those with addiction instead of helping them seek treatment.  

Addiction Resources and Treatment Options

Various resources are available for people struggling with addiction, including support groups like Alcoholic's Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA), which offer a community of peers who understand the challenges of addiction. You can also join inpatient or outpatient programs for a safe and supportive environment that allows you to focus on your recovery. Treatment centers provide a range of treatment options that include:

  • Detoxification programs: This is the first step in overcoming addiction, and it involves cleansing your body of the harmful substances that you have been using. The detoxification process can be difficult, but it is essential to ensure that you can focus on the rest of your recovery without the physical cravings and withdrawals.
  • Behavioral therapy:¬†Behavioral health¬†therapy helps you identify and change the negative thought patterns and behaviors contributing to your addiction. It helps you to learn new coping skills and strategies for dealing with relapse triggers and cravings.
  • Medications: Medications are available to help ease withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings for drugs or alcohol. These medications can be an important tool in your recovery process and are often combined with behavioral therapy.
  • Support groups: Joining a support group can provide a safe and supportive environment where you can connect with others going through similar experiences. These groups can offer you emotional support, encouragement, and guidance as you work to overcome your addiction.
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Remember that recovery is a journey, and it is important to be patient and kind to yourself along the way. You can overcome addiction and lead a healthy and fulfilling life with the right support and resources. Don't suffer in silence; reach out for help today.

Harm Reduction Efforts

Harm reduction is a public health approach that aims to reduce the harms associated with drug or alcohol use, even if the individual is not yet ready to quit. Harm reduction strategies can include safe injection sites, needle exchange programs, and overdose prevention initiatives. Harm reduction efforts can help individuals manage the risks associated with drug or alcohol use and provide a supportive and non-judgmental approach to addiction.

Don't Suffer in Silence

If you are struggling with addiction, knowing that you are not alone is important. Addiction is a common issue that affects millions of people around the world. While it may feel like you are the only one dealing with this problem, many others are also struggling and seeking help. By reaching out for help, you can connect with others who understand what you are going through and provide you with support and encouragement.

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