Why is Addiction Stigmatized?
When you think of drug addiction you can’t help but envision a poorly lit alley with two shady figures looking over their shoulders and whispering menacingly. Dirty and unkempt, they perform a slight of hand to exchange heaven knows what and they depart from each other without hesitation or heartwarming sympathy.
It is true that drug addiction is often shrouded with criminal activity and desperation that causes the general masses to turn the other cheek. The media plays a key role in the way society views drug abuse and the tragic story of living a life revolving around obtaining drugs. Anti-drug commercials depicting starving and unhealthy addicts, TV shows like Breaking Bad and Intervention focus on the darker side of addiction, and even movies like Spun or Requiem for a Dream puts the fear of drug consumption in the hearts of many.
For entertainment purposes, these interpretations of addiction attract many different audiences from many different backgrounds, but this one sided perspective is causing a stigma around addiction focused on suffering, human trafficking, guilt, shame, and criminal activity.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA’s) National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 23.5 million people needed treatment for an illicit drug or alcohol abuse problem in 2009. Of these, only 2.6 million received it at a specialty facility.
Is the stigma around addiction the reason only 11% of the people surveyed received the help they needed? Treatment for substance abuse addiction is partial or completely covered by insurance companies making the cost for treatment less likely the reason why those who need the help are not getting it.
What About the Other Faces of Addiction?
Addiction wears many faces. The soccer mom struggling with a pain pill addiction, the war veteran drowning his trauma in a bottle of Jack Daniels, the widowed wife popping anxiety meds because of the loss of her husband, or even the college student wired at 3 am cramming for an exam with a bottle of Adderall next to his computer.
Should they be stigmatized, alienated, and looked down upon the way the homeless junkies are?
No, either of these demographics should be treated with such disrespect because of their disease.
Would you turn your nose up and clutch your purse in prejudice if you saw a cancer patient sitting at the bus stop next to you?
No, you wouldn’t. Sympathy, humility, and respect is a more accurate emotional response for those who are suffering from that particular disease.
Both of these diseases equally rob those who are suffering and unable to live a fulfilling life, depriving those still struggling to reach their extraordinary potential, and coincidentally, both destroy your bank account to satisfy the needs of the disease.
Understanding Addiction to Change the Stigma
Labeling addiction with such a dark persona is having negative repercussions on those who are seeking help or need help. Many times people with addictions are riddled with shame and self-loathing when they should be encouraged to reach out and get treatment. The lack of understanding about addiction as a disease has caused society to turn a blind eye to the epidemic that is substance abuse addiction and write off those who are struggle as degenerates that have chosen a life of crime and manipulation.
This view of addiction has to change for this great society to grow and thrive as a species. Having compassion and love for your fellow man is not weakness but a healthy way of moving forward as a nation. Changing the stigma around addiction begins with knowledge and acceptance, doing away with prejudice and criminalization.