There are Still Stigmas Around Addiction
There is near universal agreement in the medical, scientific and political communities that addiction is a disease. While there are many factors that contribute to the formation and rise of addiction on a personal as well as global level, ultimately it is not the fault of those individuals who end up struggling with the illness. Sadly, there are still many stigmas around addiction that can inhibit treatment. By understanding the nature of addiction, identifying stigmas and proving them false, more patients may be able to get the help they need today and in the years to come.
Stigma of Addiction as a Character Flaw
Arguably the biggest stigma about addiction is that it is somehow evidence of a character flaw or a moral deficit. Of course, the reality could not be further from the truth. There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that the formation of an addiction to drugs or alcohol has anything to do with a person’s character or moral integrity.
Addiction can impact a wide range of people. It does not discriminate when it comes to age, gender, ethnicity or industry. It impacts the wealthy and the poor alike. Clearly, addiction is a human problem, not a problem that is related to any specific group of people or to any type of person.
To help combat this particular stigma about addiction, it helps to understand what actually leads to the formation of addiction. Scientifically, it is believed that addiction is caused by genetic factors such as predisposition to addiction as well as things like environment, availability of addictive substances and mental health. Those who struggle with a history of trauma or with a mental health disorder are far more likely to eventually succumb to addiction, although addictive substances can certainly impact just about anyone.
Stigma of Addiction as a Choice
Also to be addressed is the common misconception that addiction is somehow a choice. Many individuals believe that an addiction can be cured, or halted, simply by deciding to stop using the addictive substance altogether. This line of thinking is incorrect, but it can also be dangerous.
Quitting cold turkey can lead to dangerous withdrawal symptoms, many of which can culminate in serious health problems and even death. Furthermore, not treating the causes of addiction, and offering patients the necessary tools to maintain their sobriety, might result in relapse or the development of additional addictions in the future.
It is true that not all those who use drugs or drink alcohol will develop an addiction. However, it is not a matter of choice. No individuals would choose to have a disease that impacts their financial security, their health, their relationships and their families in such a negative way. Conversely, those who don’t develop addictions after using addictive substances are in no way better or stronger, nor did they simply make the decision not to develop the illness of addiction.
Stigma of Addiction as Incurable
A worrying stigma regarding addiction is that it is incurable. This stigma is so dangerous because it may discourage individuals who are struggling with addiction to seek help. If they believe that their illness can’t be cured, then they may not want to put in the effort to recover.
Addiction is an illness. Just like many chronic illnesses, recovery is an ongoing process. No one can be diagnosed with diabetes, take a pill and then be completely healthy again. Similarly, there is no magic or quick cure for addiction.
However, the fact that recovery isn’t instant or 100 percent effective in all cases should never discourage patients from seeking help. Doctors never promise guaranteed recovery for those diagnosed with heart disease, asthma or cancer, but treatment is still always encouraged. Often, the right treatment can transform lives, and in many cases it can be an effective way to improve health and relationships for a lifetime.
Tackling Addiction Stigmas Through Education and Therapy
After identifying the major stigmas surrounding addiction, it is important to ask how they can be diminished. The two best ways to eliminate dangerous addiction stigmas are education and therapy.
Education about addiction can help people of all ages to better understand the disease and how it impacts individuals from all walks to life. By understanding the dangers of prescription painkillers, for example, individuals might see that drug addiction isn’t something reserved for the young or those who use illegal drugs. Education can also prevent the formation of addictions in the future, and it can teach individuals to recognize the signs of addiction in others so that they might help.
Therapy is another important way to deal with the stigmas surrounding addiction. By utilizing family therapy, for example, the family members of those struggling with addiction can get a realistic picture of the disease. They will be better informed. They will be able to distinguish myth from truth and they will be better prepared to help their loved ones achieve sobriety and recover from addiction.
How Legislation is Changing the Stigmas Surrounding Addiction
Perhaps one of the biggest ways to combat stigmas about addiction is to create clear laws that define the illness and ensure that those suffering from it can receive help and treatment. That is precisely what was accomplished through the Affordable Care Act in 2012.
Through the ACA, addiction and substance abuse disorders were clearly defined as illnesses. In addition, the treatment of these illnesses was categorized as an important element of essential health. As a result, medical professionals and health insurance providers have to treat addiction similarly to any other illness. Patients can’t be discriminated against because of their addiction, allowing them greater freedom to seek affordable treatment and qualify for health insurance benefits.
There is no denying that stigmas about addiction still exist. This is particularly true when it comes to the idea of addiction as a choice, addiction as a character flaw and addiction as incurable.
Thankfully, things like education, awareness, therapy and legislation are eliminating some of these stigmas and allowing patients struggling with addiction to get the treatment they need for optimum health and wellness.