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Let’s talk stigmas: Drugs and alcohol

18th June 2020 Print

What do you think of when the word addiction is spoken? What does the word mean to you?

For most adults across the UK, addiction is an unpleasant and often avoided concept that’s ignored wherever possible. It conjures up images of damaged people and the homeless, missing entirely the reality that addiction is a disease that haunts working professionals and families too. 

This is an example of a stigma, and it’s damaging to individuals who are seeking support and care in the conquering of their own substance abuse issues. 

What’s a stigma?

Stigmas vary across our culture. In essence, they’re a view we have – often negative – about a person or thing. Stigmas are uninformed opinions that we assume from our media and social circles, often without even realising we have done so. They’re pervasive and harmful and, importantly, detached from the reality of the situation in question. For people struggling with the disease of addiction, the stigma they carry is something that makes them more isolated, judged harshly and less likely to pursue and succeed in recovery.

The negative stigma of addiction is a real thing wherever you look. A poll performed in 2014 found 64% of respondents in American workplaces to believe adults addicted to drugs or alcohol should be denied employment. This is a textbook example of the combination of a negative assumption and a lack of real knowledge on the subject in question; the truth is that the more support and chance we give an addict to live a normal life, the more likely they are to succeed. The more connected and cared for they are, the more likely their recovery is to succeed – and the opposite is true.

Carrying these preconceived notions in our daily lives is something we all do, and it’s our duty to unlearn them wherever evidence compels us to do so. The key point to remember about stigmas is that they aren’t grounded in reality. Racial stigmas melt away when direct conversation and friendship is had, and the negative assumptions about addiction are often shown to be naïve and uninformed when adults speak with addiction professionals and those undergoing their own efforts towards sobriety and recovery, such as pursuing online treatment with Help Me Stop

Why stigmas are such a problem

Consider yourself in the shoes of a person addicted to drugs, alcohol or both. Your daily life is a battle against a disease in your mind that compels you to self destruct, causing harm to yourself and those closest to you. Your career is suffering – if you even have a job anymore. Your friends and family are becoming cold and distant as your problem worsens. 

You want to open up to them and admit your issues openly, but you’re scared. Everyone knows addicts are flawed people, and what if their reaction is extreme? You want to tell your HR department you’re an alcoholic, but what if you get fired because of it? Because stigmas cloud reasonable responses and fair judgements, it’s impossible to reliably estimate how a person will react to you discussing your problems with them.

This drives the individual further into isolation, which is the exact place where addiction to a substance thrives and grows at its strongest and fastest. 

For any adult who is not addicted to drugs and alcohol, we can still help those fighting addiction by being aware of our bias. By being willing to hear out and support any individual struggling with addiction without pre-judging them, we are able to make a small yet decisive and positive affect on their chances of achieving a sober and successful life.