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Let’s Talk About Stigma

Lets Talk About Stigma

Julianna Fellows

When it comes to addiction its affliction does not skip over skin color, gender, age, social status, geographic area or financial portfolio.  It has no bias and no targeted audience.  It is an equal opportunity demon. In my personal experience (aforementioned, my dad) and professional experience I never found an addict proudly state they reached the exact goal they were looking to accomplish by being addicted to drugs or alcohol.

Addiction can be a highly charged topic and there are plenty of differing opinions from what criteria to use to diagnose addiction, treatment methods and where fiscal responsibility lies. Yet, no matter what the varying opinions are, addiction remains a current public health crisis that people are now talking about more frequently as opposed to keeping it in the shadows.  By discussing (not arguing about) addiction, it helps establish awareness. The more awareness we produce the greater the impact reducing stigma that surrounds addiction. The more we can reduce stigma (one of the largest barriers to treatment) the greater the impact on recovered and healthy people and communities.

The more awareness we produce the greater the impact reducing stigma that surrounds addiction.

Scrapping Stigma

I tend to see stigma as having two faces.  One face is a perceived social or external stigma having negative thoughts and/or beliefs toward a topic or group of people. Often this leads to rejection of or discrimination against socially unwelcomed traits and/or behaviors in people, such as drug & alcohol abuse.  The other face is perceived internal stigma where people who struggle with addiction see themselves as bad or failures. This can severely impact self-esteem and self-worth.  There is historical longevity that views dependence on drugs and/or alcohol as immoral and lacking self-control.  These views perpetuate stigma and create barriers to much needed treatment.

Many of us have felt the sting of stigma in some form or other whether in professional settings, within our family and friend circles or from the general public.  Being criticized, judged and devalued feels unpleasant and uncomfortable no matter who or where it comes from. For those with an addiction who need help and a path of recovery, reducing stigma surrounding their situation is paramount.  Educating people and communities on the topic of addiction as well as modeling nonjudgmental behavior can reduce stigma and provide support.

                             Effective ways to help reduce stigma

  • Do research and learn about chemical dependency – this can help replace negative attitudes with evidence-based facts.
  • Avoid hurtful labels – name calling and derogatory statements can lead to isolation which decreases the chances of someone reaching out for help.
  • Provide compassionate support – even if you don’t understand a person’s dependence on alcohol or drugs, showing compassion and displaying kindness is supportive to those in the vulnerable situation of addiction.
  • See the person not the drug – there is plenty of other things to appreciate and love in a person that isn’t about addiction.
  • Share your own story and experience with others.

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