The stigma of addiction must be eliminated so that more people seek help.
Opinions and misconceptions about addiction abound in society. For people who struggle with a drug or alcohol addiction, the judgment and stigma attached to the concept of addiction can actually harm the recovery process. A case can be made that stigma is one of the greatest barriers to reaching out for addiction treatment. How can society work to better educate people so they understand that addiction is a clinical disorder? How can the stigma of addiction be eliminated?
Patients Need Treatment, Not Judgment
The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) is devoted to the clinical treatment of substance use disorders. In their article, “Patients with Addiction Need Treatment – Not Stigma,” they suggest that people should put away moral judgments around addiction and recognize the truth that addiction is a disease. The stigma of addiction should have no place in our culture. People should recognize that, as is the case with other diseases, treatment is required to effectively overcome a substance use disorder.
It is essential to educate people on the fact that addiction is a chronic disease of the brain and it is not a choice. No one wants to have a chronic disease, whether it is a drug or alcohol disorder, diabetes, or Alzheimer’s. In their articles, ASAM points out that, “a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental stimulus,” can lead to addiction, which actually changes how the human brain is wired. Yet, the stigma of addiction lingers, no matter what science proves. How can people change their beliefs about substance use disorders? Can the stigma of addiction be eliminated?
Addiction is a disease, not a choice.
To reduce the stigma surrounding addiction, ASAM recommends:
- Changing the conversation about how people are affected by the disease: Experts at ASAM suggest increasing access to medication-assisted therapies and increasing access to evidence-based treatments.
- Consulting with medical professionals: Physicians, dentists, and other clinicians with prescribing rights use prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) to flag patients that are leaning toward substance use disorders. These programs can help doctors spot patients that are exhibiting signs of addiction.
- Increasing education around prevention: Setting up teen intervention programs during times when experimentation with drugs or alcohol is a part of growing up, and teaching parents about safe storage of leftover drugs, are two ways to improve prevention efforts.
- Screening and treating comorbidities such as mental illness alongside addiction: Many comorbidities go hand-in-hand with substance misuse, so treatments should address all underlying health issues.
Additionally, the Drug Policy Alliance also recommends changing how people speak about addiction. Learning the facts about drug misuse will lessen the stigma of addiction. Today, people know that substance use disorders affect the brain. Yet, the Drug Policy Alliance states, “People with substance misuse issues are less likely to be offered help than are people with a mental illness or physical disability.” Lessening the stigma of addiction means offering compassion to the people who need it, along with the recognition that a substance use disorder is a disease and not a preference.