When we hear the word stigma, we know that it carries a lot of weight. We may not be able to concretely define the term, but when the word stigma is thrown out in conversation we know right away the negative connotations it carries. When we are talking about addiction and recovery, the stigma that has been attached to it has been difficult to shake.

While there have been significant changes made in regards to how addiction is viewed and treated, old morality-based mindsets are still firmly in place. Recovery from addiction is possible and many people from all walks of life are living proof of that fact, yet many still feel that addiction is a result of character or spiritual flaws. As a result, the stigma surrounding addiction can keep those who desperately need treatment stuck and feeling they are not worthy of saving themselves.

In order to learn how to break the stigma of addiction, we need to be able to accurately define the term as simply as possible.

Defining Stigma

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A stigma can generally be seen as an unpleasant mark or sign that is usually associated with disgrace and shame. When applied in a societal context, stigma occurs when there is disapproval or disdain for a group of people based on standards that are considered different or marginal as defined by the prevailing cultural norms. Stigma occurs through labelling and stereotyping of in individual or group and as a consequence results in a loss of status and ultimately discrimination.

How Stigma Affects How We View Addicts and Addiction

Despite the changing philosophies and attitudes on how addicted is viewed and treated, trying to break the stigma surrounding drug and alcohol addiction has been difficult. We see this change in the definition of addiction that has been proposed by organizations like the American Society of Addiction Medicine:

Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors.

In regards to treating the disease of addiction, those who are addicted to can undergo drug treatment at many drug rehab facilities and there are Twelve-Step programs such as AA, NA and other similar sober support groups that can help the addict connect with a broader recovery community as well as a higher power to promote transformation.

Despite these changes, society at large still holds tight to the moral and spiritual roots of the addiction stigma. This is perpetuated by both the language and terminology that is used to further carry these negative connotations. Addiction is seen as being dirty and addicts given labels like winos, junkies and alkies, removing the humanity and dignity from those who suffer. These semantics further embed the stigma surrounding addiction in the culture at large.

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How Do We Starting Breaking Down the Stigma Associated With Addiction?

As with any stigma, breaking the stigma of addiction begins when we can focus on our similarities and place less of a focus on our differences. Breaking the stigma of addiction requires us to be more real with each other and we need to look at those who suffer from drug and alcohol abuse as human beings. Here are some ways in which the stigma of addiction can be minimized:

Finding Help

If you or a loved one are currently addicted to drugs and alcohol, get help and get sober. Seek medical detoxification, enter an intensive inpatient or outpatient drug treatment program, and take responsibility in working your plan of recovery through the use of aftercare programs, halfway houses and the continuing encouragement and support of sober support groups. It is important to not defend the behaviors that defined you when you were addicted; accept them for what they are. Feel and express remorse and start making amends to those family and friends that were significantly affected by your addiction.

Reach Out to Others

Overcoming addiction can be somewhat of a private matter and there are many who recover who choose not to talk about that part of their lives. However, having the courage to reach out to others in sharing your story is an excellent way to help reduce the stigma surrounding addiction. By sharing your story, it allows others  who struggle with addiction to become more comfortable with their own story and it helps them feel less different and more comfortable.

Find Organizations and Network

Reducing the stigma of addiction is only effective when there is strength in numbers. Finding a recovery organization can help broaden the message that recovery is a reality. A great place to start is joining an already established and well-respected organization such as Faces & Voices of Recovery, NCAAD, The Herren Project or other similar organizations.

Be Heard

The degree to which we are able to remove the stigma of addiction, and the degree to how fair or unfair society will be to people with substance abuse and addiction issues will be determined in part by the outcome of multiple public policy issues, especially those issues surrounding health care reform. If you hold a stake and a point of view, it is absolutely necessary that you contact your legislators and other policymakers and let them know what your views are regarding addiction and treatment. Your recovery is proof that recovery is possible.

Are You Seeking Recovery? Call Ocean Breeze Recovery Center

As stated earlier, an important part–and perhaps the most important part–of breaking the stigma of substance abuse is to get sober and find drug treatment. With the options that are currently available, finding the treatment center that best suits your needs can be difficult. As one of the premier drug and alcohol treatment facilities in Florida, Ocean Breeze Recovery Center understands that each person has unique needs in treatment. Our holistic-based approach to treatment incorporates the full continuum of care and our experienced staff can individualize your treatment plan to best fit your recovery goals.

Call us today and make recovery a reality.

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