Overcoming the Stigma of Substance Abuse Treatment

Jul 25, 2023 | Addiction, Adolescent Treatment, Adult Treatment, Alcohol, Drug Usage Archives, Substance Abuse

Making the choice to accept help and enter treatment for substance abuse is one of the most impactful and life-changing decisions a person can make. This choice has the power to transform your current state of being and open the door to endless opportunities in the future. Being stuck in a vicious cycle of addiction is a scary place to be, and accepting help provides a light at the end of the tunnel. Continue reading to learn more about overcoming the stigma of substance abuse treatment.

Unfortunately, many people will take longer to come to this decision or refuse it entirely, due to the stigma associated with accepting help. For many, entering treatment means finally admitting that there is a problem. This can be uncomfortable, confusing, and downright terrifying.

Different Types Of Stigma

Unbeknownst to many, there are actually several different types of stigma that exist. Most commonly, we observe social stigma that exists on a cultural level but there are other forms that apply to substance abuse as well.

  • Self-Stigma: This stigma occurs when a person internalizes the negative beliefs and stereotypes associated with addiction. It usually leads to feelings of shame and guilt. Self-stigma will usually prevent people from seeking help due to their internalized fear.
  • Structural Stigma: Structural stigma refers to the systemic barriers and policies that reinforce discriminatory practices against people dealing with substance abuse issues. Limited access to healthcare and employment discrimination are just a few outcomes of this stigma.
  • Familial Stigma: Family members of those struggling with addiction might also face a stigma of their own. This can create strained relationships, hinder communication, and impede the family’s ability to support their loved one’s recovery.
Why Do These Stigmas Exist?

Reducing the stigma associated with asking for help is essential for the well-being of those suffering. In order to truly conquer the stigma, we need to understand where it comes from. This judgment is rooted in a place of negativity. Not being able to overcome addiction on your own is seen as a sign of weakness by those that are uneducated or inexperienced with a true addiction. Rather than seeking to understand the root causes of the addiction, blame is automatically placed on the individual. If people took the time to look at the bigger picture, they would have a far more empathetic view of addiction.

The Resulting Impact

First and foremost, the stigma around substance abuse discourages individuals from seeking help due to fear of judgment and rejection by those around them. These negative attitudes create a barrier to accessing treatment, resulting in prolonged suffering, increased health risks, and a higher likelihood of overdose or relapse.

To make matters worse, this stigma hinders the process of recovery by diminishing self-esteem and reinforcing feelings of shame. This cycle perpetuates the addiction and makes it even harder to break free. Many people struggling will opt to isolate themselves rather than reach out for a helping hand. Hiding their challenges from those they care about can push them into an even darker place, further reducing their likelihood of seeking treatment.

Steps To Overcome The Stigma

Increased Education And Discussion: Squashing misconceptions and increasing general public knowledge about addiction can help remove some of the negativity surrounding treatment. By promoting a deeper understanding of the complex nature of substance abuse, its causes, and its effects, we are better equipped to foster empathy and compassion for those struggling with addiction.

Remember That Addiction Is Not A Choice: There is a prevalent misconception that addiction is simply a matter of choice and that anyone can cease drug use whenever they please if they are strong enough. Research has proven time and time again that this is simply not true. Addiction is an incredibly complex issue influenced by many different factors, including:

  1. Life events, particularly traumatic experiences, and chronic stress.
  2. Environmental circumstances that contribute to drug use.
  3. Mental well-being encompasses emotions, thoughts, feelings, and the presence of mental illnesses.
  4. Genetic and biological predispositions.

While some people may experiment with drugs on occasion, others may turn to drug use as a means of coping with trauma or emotional pain. It is vital to recognize that nobody consciously chooses to become addicted. The grip of addiction and physical dependence often makes it incredibly challenging to discontinue drug use, even when it causes harm to oneself and those around them.

Be Open To Conversation: Be open to conversations about addiction.  Having open discussions about the impacts of substance abuse can be a helpful way to destigmatize it.  Talk openly with family and friends rather than hiding it from others.  Also, be willing to talk with your children about addiction to teach them about the disease itself. Should they ever encounter someone struggling in the future, their view is likely to be more empathetic rather than judgmental.

Offer Unconditional Support: Unconditional support is something that every person going through treatment needs, without exception. Creating a safe space and non-judgmental environment is one of the most important aspects of supporting those seeking recovery. Assisting individuals through their journey, offering empathy, and celebrating their successes rather than focusing on their failures can make a huge difference in their treatment experience.

Accessibility Of Treatment: Treatment and support services should be readily available and accessible to all. This can allow for a greater level of acceptance overall. By investing in treatment programs and reducing barriers to entry, we are better able to help people overcome addiction and regain control of their lives. If treatment were more accessible to those in lower socio-economic positions, it may be more widely used and less associated with affluence.

Shifting General Beliefs And Attitudes: Changing the narrative around substance abuse requires a shift in cultural attitudes. Media and public figures have a responsibility to portray addiction accurately and sensitively, challenging stereotypes and reducing the stigma associated with it. Though this is not something that many of us have control over, it would likely make a significant impact on widespread attitudes regarding addiction.

Committing To The Cause: Unfortunately, the stigma associated with addiction is so deeply ingrained in our society that it will take time to dissolve. Committing to having open, positive conversations on the topic is necessary to make long-term changes. This can start at the dinner table and extend into conversations with friends, colleagues, and future generations as well.

This is a battle fought silently for many, with those affected struggling against their addiction while often facing the additional burden of societal stigma. The negative attitudes and stereotypes surrounding substance abuse can create barriers to recovery, exacerbate feelings of shame and guilt, and prevent people from seeking the help they desperately need. Debunking the stigma surrounding asking for help can allow those who need help to ask for it sooner than later, increasing their chances of successful recovery.

New Dimensions Can Help!

New Dimensions provides Intensive Outpatient Treatment Programs (IOP) and Partial Hospitalization (PHP) for adolescents and adults who are struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues.  If you have a young adult who is struggling, we can help them get back on track.  We have both in-person and virtual online treatment options.  To learn more, contact us at 800-685-9796 or visit our website at www.nddtreatment.com.  You can also visit www.mhthrive.com to learn more about individual therapy treatment options.