Addiction Stigma Keeping Away Those Who Need Treatment

 The Surgeon General Jerome Adams states that “stigma keeps people from coming forward and asking for help.”  Stigma is defined as a set of negative beliefs that a group or society holds about a topic or group of people.  It can affect a person’s self-esteem based on assumptions, preconceptions and generalizations, wrote Lauren Villa, MPH, author of an article “Shaming the Sick: Addiction & Stigma,” 12-31-20.

Less Than 10% of Those with Substance Abuse Disorders Seek Help.  Why?

According to Nora D. Volkow, M.D., Director of National Institute on Drug Abuse at The National Institutes of Health, even though addiction is a chronic brain disease, it is still regarded as a sign of moral weakness or a result of bad character by the public.  It’s their own fault that they can’t stop destroying themselves.  “Fighting Back Against the Stigma of Addiction,” Nora D. Volkow, 9/1/20.

Some of Stigma’s Ill Effects:

  • Stigma’s impact in the U.S. costs over $510,000 billion in economic, social, and medical costs.
  • The National Center on Addiction & Substance Abuse ( CASA) found that of 2.3 million people incarcerated in the U.S., more than 6.5% of them met the criteria for a Substance Abuse Disorder (SAD), yet only 11% of those people received treatment. (CASA, 2010).
  • The number of people in prison for drug offenses has increased more than 1,000%.
  • Doctors, nurses, and other health care workers are not adequately trained to care for those with substance abuse disorders.

SAMHSA (The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) lists these factors that influence stigma:

  • Blame
  • Stereotypes of dangerousness and unpredictable knowledge about mental and substance use disorders
  • Contact & Experience
  • Media portrayals
  • Race, ethnicity and culture

What can be Done:  Ways for Individuals to Help

  • Offer compassionate support.
  • Withhold judgment.
  • See the person as a human being.
  • Replace negative attitudes with evidence-based facts.
  • Avoid hurtful labels. Don’t say substance abuser. Instead say, one having a substance abuse disorder.  Don’t refer to someone as a “junkie,” “drug addict.”
  • Portray opioid use disorder (OUD) as
  • Model non-stigmatizing behavior.

Recovery Research Institute

Wesley Cullen Davidson

Wesley Cullen Davidson

Wesley Cullen Davidson is an award-winning freelance writer and journalist specializing in parenting. Currently, she is targeting her writing about recovery to parents whose children have substance abuse disorders.

1 Comment

  1. Lesley Starbuck on June 17, 2021 at 7:01 pm

    Thank you for this article. I thought I knew something about addiction, but your information filled in a lot a gaps I had. Bring a retired nurse, I agree that we could have more comprehensive addiction programs for doctors, nurses and care workers.

Leave a Comment