Stigma Associated with Substance Abuse

To Identify or Not Identify: Are You an Addict?

Stigma Associated with Substance Abuse

February 16th, 2016 in Psychology of Addiction
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The stigma associated with substance abuse has made it a social norm to label those who are struggling with drug or alcohol addictions. Often times these labels have a negative connotation to them like junkie. Labels arose based on how the media portrays this growing population and the activities they are associated with. Unfortunately, the media did not portray these individuals appropriately.

Quite the contrary, the media and society itself have had a false definition of what these words actually mean to people who have struggled with addiction. The media has done this population a disservice by putting such a negative spin on a disease that progressively gets worse as the abuse continues.

“No one will help an addict.”, “He’s just a heroin junkie, why should they believe him?”, “She is just a crackhead, why should she have rights?”

Terms in Recovery

Addict is a term that was placed on people who have struggled with drug abuse then eventually decided to join a 12-step program and realized that being an addict was a mental issue that had nothing to do with drugs. Once they quit using drugs, they determined that their addict mentality manifested in other areas of their lives, which gave them a better understanding of what being an addict actually is.

After gaining a more developed insight, they realized that being an addict who is clean is not a bad thing and is actually a term that they could own based on their knowledge.

Alcoholic was a term that was actually introduced in the same manner as an addict, but much earlier as Alcoholics Anonymous was conceived much sooner than programs such as Narcotics Anonymous. But like an addict, alcoholics who have gained a better understanding of themselves use the word as it pertains to their mental problem that has nothing to do with alcohol, but rather a way of thinking that manifested itself in alcohol abuse.

Are all people who need treatment for addiction addicts or alcoholics? The answer is no. Having an addiction, or “chemical dependency” and being an addict or alcoholic are completely different. Someone with an addiction may very well be able to stop using the substance or substances and exhibit completely normal behaviors. An addict or alcoholic exhibit “addictive” behaviors even after their particular substance issue has been suppressed.

The Behavior Behind the Words

For example, if you go to any AA or NA meeting, you will notice that there are several people smoking cigarettes and pounding coffee. This is an example of how obsessive and compulsive behaviors manifest themselves in areas of life other than active addiction. Another example would be the tendency for many addicts or alcoholics, which are basically the same thing, to substitute drugs with obsessive exercise.

A person who comes into treatment for heroin addiction may have developed their addiction from taking opiate-based medications. The person inevitably will find themselves developing a tolerance that has led them to seek a much more potent substance such as heroin. Does this make them an addict? No, it does not, for anyone is susceptible to getting addicted to such a powerful substance due to its nature of physical and mental dependency.

Not Every Situation is Black and White

Other examples could include a war veteran drinking to drown the dreams of the lives he has taken, the teenager experimenting with drugs for the first time, or even the bipolar patient who has yet to receive their diagnosis are all great examples of how terms like addict or alcoholic are misused to mislabel a situation.

So the real question is how do these people get the help they need if they first must be labeled to receive treatment? You wouldn’t call someone a diabetic or cancer patient before their diagnosis, nor would you make any other assumption about their health based on their lifestyle.

Like what was shared in the video, you cannot simply put a person entering treatment into one of two boxes. Treatment simply provides a person the opportunity to rid themselves of the drugs that blur his/her thinking and offers the tools they need to figure out for themselves what the exact nature of their addiction is. Being an addict or alcoholic is for the person themselves to decide, not the media or society.

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