You drink too much? Just stop. You’re addicted to drugs? You shouldn’t have picked them up in the first place. You need help quitting? That’s your problem, not mine. Using needles? That’s disgusting. Putting yourself and others in dangerous situations all for drugs and alcohol? You’re a bad person.
These are just a few stinging examples of addiction stigma. Stigma is defined as a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality or person. When talking about addiction and recovery, stigma can be deadly. This is because addiction stigma actually prevents people from seeking the help they need to get well and recover. Not only is there stigma around being a person who uses drugs or drinks in excess, there is stigma around not being able to “control” your drinking and drug use, there’s stigma around asking for help, and stigma around admitting you’re in recovery.
The fact that stigma can prevent people from getting help is a big deal and it’s something we need to speak up about. Everyone should feel safe enough to ask for and be able to receive the help they need to live a life free from addiction. Here are 5 ways to break the stigma around getting treatment for addiction.
1. Understand that you’re sick
The best way I’ve been taught to think about mental health and getting help is to consider yourself or your loved one as being sick. If you had the flu or broke your arm, you would go to the doctor and get evaluated and create a treatment plan to get better. No one sees anything wrong with doing that. In fact, they might judge you if you don’t go to the doctor for help. Getting substance use issues under control is a part of your overall well-being and should be considered just as important as your physical health.
2. Realize addiction treatment exists for this exact moment
Substance users do not get treatment in jail and if they are only sent to 12 step meetings by the court system, they might not ever get the full benefits of addiction treatment. The beauty of treatment is that there are a wide variety of options that suit each person’s unique needs. They’re not all the time. Each addiction treatment facility offers a certain type of program that includes many components. Some specialize in co-occurring disorders, while others specialize by type of drug or age and sex. Addiction treatment exists for this exact moment – when you feel you cannot go on, or you cannot stop by yourself, or you need help getting to where you want to be. You should accept the help you deserve.
3. Talk about addiction and recovery
Nothing helps break the stigma more than being open about your triumphs and your setbacks. Addiction in our society is extremely common. Everyone knows someone who has struggled with a substance use disorder and someone who is sober. How will anyone know that addiction treatment is available and recovery is possible if everyone is too scared to talk about it? We have to talk about how helpful treatment is, bust the myth that it’s shameful to ask for help and help others recover. People need to know that our society is set up for addictive behaviors and it’s up to us to confront them and change the narrative. We must create an environment where people want to get help.
4. Check your bias at the door
Yes, you too. People always have unintended biases and embedded stereotypes that contribute to stigma. This could be something as innocent as the language and labels you use, judging someone based on how long/which type of treatment facility they attend, ranking addictions based on drug of choice, calling someone a junkie based on looks alone, or criticizing another’s recovery path because it’s different from your own. Instead of perpetuating these judgments and biases we should be empowering those who need and are seeking addiction treatment.
5. Become an advocate
If you’re already in recovery and you’ve been to addiction treatment, share your story. Talk about what you learned in treatment and why it was valuable for you. Go back and visit your treatment center, volunteer, and advocate for others who are in the same spot you used to be. Another great way to become an advocate is to keep yourself educated on everything that is going on in the world concerning addiction, recovery, treatment and the laws that affect them. Get involved with local groups in your community and find out how you can connect with people who are in need of treatment. Be a voice for the voiceless. Stay involved, help reduce the stigma, and save lives.
The reality is stigma kills and it serves no useful purpose. We should all be thinking about the countless ways we can break the addiction stigma, especially when it comes to getting the millions of people who are still struggling the help they need. Do what you can with what you have and always be ready to speak up.
About the Author
Kelly Fitzgerald is a sober writer based in Southwest Florida who is best known for her personal blog The Adventures of a Sober Señorita. Her work has been published across the web including sites like The Huffington Post, Thought Catalog, Ravishly, SheKnows, Elite Daily, The Fix, Brit + Co, Addiction Unscripted and AfterPartyMagazine. She is currently writing a memoir.