The word “stigma” comes from a Greek word that designates a physical mark made by a pointed instrument, such as a brand or a tattoo. While that is not how the word is used today, that is what it feels like for many people with addiction or other mental illnesses.

When a person feels as if he or she is “marked” because of a substance abuse disorder or other mental illness, eventually a painful sense of shame can develop. Shame is a heavy burden, made up of the painful consciousness of being “improper,” or “dishonorable,” or “defective” in some way.

Is it any wonder that stigma is an enormous barrier to seeking treatment for substance abuse disorders and co-occurring mental illnesses? Addiction treatment must address not only the illness of substance abuse, but the unfortunate stigma that still clings to this disease.

The Effect: Only Seeking Help in an Emergency

Stigma leads people with substance abuse disorders to think in ways that have been disproven, or that are at least less common than they used to be. For example, a person may think:

  • “It is because I have a weak character.”
  • “People will think I am crazy.”
  • “I will lose my job.”
  • “My partner will leave me.”

A not-uncommon end result is a person who only seeks help when the problem is bad enough to constitute an emergency. Clearly this is not the ideal way to approach addiction treatment. Opening up to people about any illness is intimidating. Unfortunately, some people still see addiction as a choice and mental illness as weak character.

Removing the Stigma of Addiction

Fortunately, these attitudes are changing, and more people than ever understand the illness of addiction and are supportive of those who seek addiction treatment.

The more people are willing to share their stories of addiction treatment and recovery, and are able to demonstrate that they are in many ways just like everyone else, the less people will think of people with substance abuse disorders as stereotypical hopeless cases living on the streets with a needle in their arm.

Anyone can develop an addiction, and the more brothers, sisters, friends, lawyers, elected officials, and entertainers speak frankly about their journey through addiction treatment, the more society combats the stigma of addiction as being a character weakness.

Education About Addiction as Illness

Sadly, because of the opioid addiction epidemic in America, people have little choice but to learn that it can happen to anyone. While society grapples with what to do about the scourge of opioid and other addictions, more people have been directly and personally affected by addiction.

If someone has not experienced substance abuse disorder themselves, they have likely had the experience of having a friend, family member, or coworker with an addiction. This experience teaches that, while the stereotypical “street junkie” exists, he or she is far from the only face of people with addictions. Slowly but surely, this is turning around the thinking on substance abuse and will continue to reduce the stigma over time.

Where Can Those with Addiction Go for Help? 

Of course, a future where there is no stigma for substance abuse disorders and co-occurring mental illnesses sounds good, but how does that help the person who needs treatment right now? If you believe you have a substance abuse disorder, it is largely up to you with which of your friends and loved one you choose to share this information.

The one person you must share it with to access the addiction treatment services you need is the person at the other end of the line when you call for help. You can rest assured that person understands addiction as an illness and wants to help rather than judge you. Please feel free to reach out at any time and learn more about our admissions. We are ready to help you get the addiction treatment you need so you can live a productive and rewarding life.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.