Unpacking the Stigma behind Substance Abuse

by | Aug 8, 2022

Overdose-related deaths and the stigma surrounding substance abuse are affecting our friends, families and communities. Even if you haven’t personally experienced substance abuse, it is very likely that someone you care about has. Substance abuse is not something that should be taken lightly. Between May 2020 and 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the U.S. drug overdose deaths exceeded 100,000. In 2022, the CDC predicts a drug overdose death rate of 25.21% in New Mexico. There are many different barriers that prevent people from seeking treatment. Some barriers relate to access, or not believing that treatment is needed. However, a particularly challenging barrier that is pervasive in our society is the stigma of substance abuse.

We know how pervasive and damaging the stigma around substance abuse is, not just because of our expertise in the treatment field, but from our own personal experiences. Substance abuse stigma can be very isolating, but with our treatment team we can work together towards long-term recovery.

What is Addiction Stigma?

Coming from Latin and Greek, the word “stigma” originally meant a burn, tattoo or mark exacted on another person to signify their disgrace. Addiction stigma refers to the negative attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors toward people with substance use disorders. Society, as a whole, treats people with substance abuse disorders with contempt. Why? Well, in part, addiction is rarely openly discussed without value judgments.

There are three common types of addiction stigma:

  1. Self-stigma occurs when someone internalizes negative messages about people who use drugs. Someone who hides their drug or alcohol use or uses drugs/alcohol alone may be feeling some degree of self-stigma.
  2. Social stigma relates to the derisive and dismissive labels and images used to describe addiction. These can occur in everyday conversations as well as in the media.
  3. The third type of stigma, structural stigma, refers to policies put in place that prevent people accessing care. For example, stigma can make it harder for people with addiction to find employment or housing.

It’s important to understand how shame, silence and stigma feed off of each other. At Zia Recovery Center, our mission is not only to help people recover, but also to help clients and their families and friends shed deep-rooted misconceptions around addiction.

Myths of Addiction

There are many myths about addiction that contribute to the stigma surrounding substance abuse. Here are some of the most common:

  • Addiction is a choice
  • People with addiction are weak
  • You can’t recover from addiction
  • Treatment doesn’t work

Let’s explore each of these myths in more detail.

Addiction is a Choice

One of the most damaging myths about addiction is that it is a choice. This myth is based on the false belief that people with addiction are in control of their substance abuse. The debate of whether addiction is a choice or a disease has seen a resurgence in recent years. While an addiction may have begun from an individual’s personal choice, addiction itself is a mental disease rather than a continued choice.

In recent decades, scientific experts have designated addiction as a disease rather than a choice. Research shows that addiction changes the brain and alters how a person functions, both behaviorally and physiologically. Recovery entails constant effort from the recovering individual to remain sober every day, as relapse is always a possibility. Further evidence that points to addiction as a disease is that hereditary factors play a role regarding a person’s risk of addiction.

The reality is that addiction is a chronic, progressive disease that alters the brain. Just like any other chronic illness, such as diabetes or heart disease, people with addiction cannot simply stop using drugs or alcohol without treatment.

People with Addiction are Weak

Another harmful myth about addiction is that people with addiction are weak. This couldn’t be further from the truth! In fact, it takes a great deal of strength to overcome addiction. It is estimated that only about one in ten people who suffer from addiction will seek treatment. That means that nine out of ten people with addiction are struggling to manage their disease on their own.

You Can’t Recover from Addiction

A common misconception about addiction is that you can never recover from it. This simply isn’t true. With treatment, many people with addiction are able to live happy, healthy, and productive lives. In fact, research shows that about 50% of people with addiction will recover without treatment. However, for those who do seek treatment, the success rate goes up to 80%.

Treatment Doesn’t Work

A final myth about addiction is that treatment doesn’t work. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Treatment for addiction is highly effective. In fact, research shows that for every dollar invested in treatment, there is a return of four to seven dollars in savings on health care costs, criminal justice costs, and lost productivity.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, don’t believe the myths. Treatment does work. At Zia Recovery Center, we are committed to continually updating our treatment program based on the most relevant needs of our current client demographic and to guide clients toward becoming accountable for their own recovery and actions.

Working to end Substance Abuse Stigma

The first step to ending stigma is education. It’s important to learn the facts about addiction and dispel the myths. Second, we can choose our words carefully. The way we talk about addiction matters. For example, using person-first language (e.g., “person with addiction” rather than “addict”) is important. Third, we can be compassionate. stigma around addiction leads to shame and isolation, which are major barriers to recovery. Finally, we can be open about our own experiences with addiction. Sharing our stories can help reduce stigma and promote understanding and compassion.
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. There is no shame in seeking treatment for addiction. Treatment works. At Zia Recovery Center, we offer evidence-based treatment for addiction that can help you or your loved one get on the road to recovery. Please contact us now at 575-523-0111 to learn more about our program or to begin the process of admission.