If you are recovering from a substance use disorder, one of the many challenges you may face is dealing with the stigma of addiction. It may help you if you understand why some people may react negatively to you because you have a substance use disorder.
People who stand out from others in what is perceived as a negative way are often stigmatized. When people suffer from the disease of addiction, their behavior is very often different from the culturally accepted norm. Even after people enter recovery, other people may still stigmatize them because of previous behavior.
Lack of Understanding
Much of the stigma associated with addiction arises because people do not understand the nature of the illness. To many people, addiction is a self-inflicted condition. They may believe that others only need the willpower to resist addictive substances.
They do not understand that addiction is a chronic brain disease.1 People cannot typically be cured simply by willpower, any more than a person with asthma or heart disease can get rid of those diseases by willpower. Instead, they may mistakenly perceive people who have substance use disorders as morally weak.
Using illicit substances like heroin is regarded as criminal behavior, and federal, state and municipal law enforcement agencies frequently publish stories related to the “war on drugs.” Mental health facilities may turn away or discharge people who are mentally ill because they also suffer from substance use disorders. Educational establishments may expel students who have a substance use disorder.
All of these factors can serve to reinforce negative opinions in the public’s mind. This misperception has the added effect of making it difficult for authorities to allocate more resources to addiction treatment programs.
Coping with the Stigma of Addiction
Your fear for the stigma of addiction may make you reluctant to seek treatment. Try to overcome this and get the right help. Treatment will help you fully understand your illness, and that makes it easier to deal with it.
Keep in mind that you have an illness that afflicts many millions of people. The 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health revealed that 6.4 percent of Americans over the age of 12—17 million people—had an alcohol use disorder.2
Be wary of stigmatizing yourself. Your own views about your substance use disorder, and your perceived failure to control it, may make you feel weak and ashamed. Getting professional treatment will help you overcome these negative thoughts and show you that addiction does not define you.
Educating yourself about the condition can also help you to counter negative reactions. Try to talk to people you trust about your problem rather than hiding it. Their support can be invaluable in helping you to cope. It can also be invaluable in your recovery.