Getting the Best Treatment? Not if your child Feels Stigmatized

Parents want the best treatment for their children who have substance abuse disorders yet only 18% of those who misuse drugs, including alcohol, receive treatment for their addiction, according to psychiatrist Nora Volkow, M.D., Director of National Institute on Drug Abuse.


Why?  Stigma is the main reason behind the reluctance to go to doctor,  a rehab.  Society judges the addict.  This judgment diminishes the self-esteem of the person with the substance abuse and makes him feel ashamed of his habit.

Afraid to divulge his secret, he may hide his medical condition from the doctor who needs to know so his patient can be treated properly.  Even with medical advances, society still regards addiction as a moral failing, not a chronic brain disease that is prone to relapsing.

According to a National Survey on Drug Use and Health, within a community, those who misuse drugs avoid seeking treatment they need for substance abuse due to the fear of negative opinions by community members or neighbors.  This prejudice is not just contained within neighborhoods. Like an insidious disease, it spreads to other areas.

Even when they are “treated,” they aren’t respected by the Emergency Room personnel (drug usage accounts for 25% of all visits to the E.R.) nor the primary care physicians who see them.  Although the latter believe that opioid use disorder is a treatable medical condition, their attitude toward their clientele can be similar to the opinions of the public who regard the afflicted as ones who are choosing to be anti-social, according to science researcher Dr. Volkow.

They are punished and criminalized.  Approximately half of people in prisons have a substance abuse disorder as well as two mental health conditions.  In some states, pregnant women with SUDS can be charged with child abuse or possibly lose their parental rights if their child shows proof of prenatal drug exposure or is born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, a withdrawal syndrome that can occur in newborns exposed to certain substances, including opioids, during pregnancy. (In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention article looked at laws enacted in six states that make health departments or hospitals report all babies born with NAS for public health monitoring.)

Use Anti-Stigmatic Language. It Matters!

The Hanley ( suggests you learn a more drug-friendly language that will make those with substance abuse disorders feel better about themselves.  For example:

  • Instead of calling someone a “junkie,” it’s kinder to call him a person who suffers from opioid disorder.
  • Instead of labelling her an addict, substitute a person with substance abuse disorder.
  • Instead of saying their urine testing came out “dirty,” say it contained illicit drugs.
  • If the urine test came out “clean,” then it was abstinent.

Medication Assisted Treatment (using suboxone or methadone) is not substituting one drug for another, but a method for keeping one with substance abuse disorder on course for recovery.  It alleviates the cravings for the former opioid or drug of choice.

Whatever a parent, a doctor, medical personnel can do to clear up the misconceptions and myths surrounding this disease will bolster the child’s self-esteem and pave the way to recovery.

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.

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