Breaking The Stigma Of Addiction

Breaking The Stigma Of Addiction

Stigma defines the strong negative perceptions people commonly associate with alcohol addicts. Stigma can significantly affect a person’s self-esteem, destroy relationships with loved ones and prevent alcohol addicts from getting access to treatment.

Stigma is a social issue as much as it’s a public health issue. It contributes to high death rates, imprisonment and mental health issues among dependent populations.


What Is Stigma?

Stigma is a set of adverse beliefs that a group of people or society have about an issue or a group of people. The World Health Organisation (WHO) lists stigma as a major cause of discrimination and marginalisation, which leads to human rights abuse.

A person who experiences stigma is seen as ‘less-than’ because of their real or perceived health condition. The truth about stigma is that it is hardly based on facts, but assumptions, preconceived notions and simplifications.


How Common Is Addiction Stigma?

Stigma affects everybody, and almost all of us have experienced some form of stigma at a point in our lives. A survey performed at John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health says that the general public are more likely to treat people suffering from addiction negatively than those with mental illness.

Similarly, another study showed that people don’t support insurance, housing and employment laws that favour former alcohol dependents.


What Causes Addiction Stigma?

Back in the early 1900s when the health community was just beginning to study addiction, many people believed people became dependent on alcohol because they were weak-willed and morally deficient. As a result, most treatment were focused on punishment rather than physical and mental health care. The same idea has been passed across generations and is still evident in our modern society.

Today, the cause of addiction has been established as a rewiring of the brain’s pleasure pathways to seek immediate -albeit transient- relief regularly. If a person continues to drink alcohol when he is stressed, the pleasure receptors are triggered and the brain registers this response.

The hippocampus learns and stores this message of satisfaction while the amygdala creates a conditioned response to stimuli. Before long, a stressful situation triggers the amygdala to create alcohol cravings which cause withdrawal until alcohol is consumed.

Most addicts are willing to stop using alcohol but are unable to fight this strong cycle formed by their brain functions. It takes a lot of effort and medical support to overcome an alcohol addiction.


How Can We Break The Stigma?

Stigma often prevents recovering addicts from getting jobs, making new friends or getting support in their community. We can reduce this notion by creating awareness on the truth about addiction. No matter the situation, nobody likes to be judged or ostracised.

We can participate in educational programs and practicing non-stigmatising behaviour. We should show empathy and help people in recovery get the help they deserve.

Other ways we can reduce addiction stigma include:

  • Showing compassionate support
  • Listening while withholding judgement
  • Stop using hurtful labels
  • Substituting negative generalisations with evidence-based facts, and
  • Teaching people in our circles about addiction

A person in recovery is more likely to maintain their sobriety when they receive support from society. Let us make it easier for them by suppressing stigma around us.


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