How Can Drug Addiction Stigma Lead To Delayed Treatment Or Worse?

By Nicole Clarke from
Shaming individuals who struggle with drug or alcohol addiction can lead to delayed treatment, overdose or death. Learn how to help break the stigma in the article below.                                                                                   
How Can Drug Addiction Stigma Lead to Delayed Treatment or Worse? 

As a society, we tend to see addiction as primarily a moral dilemma. We often think that only people who are weak or low-class struggle with alcohol or drug addiction. These beliefs have grown into a perpetuating stigma surrounding addiction – one that leads those struggling with this disorder to feel guilt and shame.

In turn, someone who desperately needs addiction treatment may decide against it for fear of what others may think. Delays in treatment can result in furthering the addiction in secrecy, overdosing or dying. Individuals with addictions need treatment, not judgment.

Changing the Way We Perceive Addiction 

There is an ongoing debate about the status of addiction as a disease. Many researchers, medical professionals and drug treatment centers acknowledge it as such.

Through this lens, addiction is not a sign of failure or being inferior to one’s peers. Instead, it is a chronic disease of the brain that stems from genetic predisposition and/or environmental factors. Changes in the brain’s reward circuit after substance abuse lead to the development of tolerance, cravings and compulsive behaviors.

Individuals with drug or alcohol addictions are patients who require treatment. When these patients feel ashamed of themselves due to pressures society, and possibly family, exert on them, they may choose to delay treatment. As is the case with other diseases, delayed treatment can lead to a worsening of the condition.

What Happens if Undergoing Treatment Is Delayed

Addicted individuals may fall farther into this disease of the brain, increasing the intake of drugs and/or alcohol to combat new tolerance levels and experience the same effects. The risk of overdose increases, as does the risk of death.

Stigmatizing patients does more harm than many realize. It leads to users hesitating to be forthcoming about their struggles and being open to treatment. The goal should be to treat patients with addictions and enable them to live as functional members of society, not to shame people into making a change. Teenagers are especially at risk of delaying seeking help due to societal stigma and judgment.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, about 55,000 people die from drug overdose deaths in the U.S. every year. Learning how to break the stigma and support individuals suffering from addiction will save lives.

How To Break The Stigma Surrounding Addiction

Encouraging people to seek treatment relies on one’s ability to reduce the stigma surrounding addiction. Currently, Americans view drug addiction much more negatively than mental illness (of which substance use can also be classified). In the future, society needs to recognize substance abuse as a chronic medical condition that can be managed with effective treatment.

Here are a few ways to break the stigma and take the first step toward helping those struggling with addiction:

  • Educate yourself and people in your community, especially the youth, about the true nature of addiction.
  • Put a human face on the addiction struggle. It could be your relative, neighbor or friend.
  • Share stories of real individuals breaking the cycle of addiction with help from a treatment program.
  • Do not disgrace, dishonor or humiliate someone struggling with an alcohol or drug use problem. Instead, offer help and recommend a treatment program.
  • Reach out to someone if you know he or she is silently trying to overcome addiction.
  • Write to government officials in your county asking them to provide aid to children who have addicted parents.
  • Write to state-level officials to change legal obstacles that prevent people in recovery from finding corporate jobs.
  • Become an advocate for people struggling with addiction.

You can break the cycle. You can end the social stigma that surrounds addiction. You can save lives within your community and around the world.

Join the movement in fighting against the stigma of addiction through the #NoMoreShame campaign created by The Treatment Center in Florida. Start the conversation in your community and shed light on an issue that continues to take more than a 100 lives every day. Together, we can conquer the stigma around addiction, and hopefully the disease itself. If you are struggling with addiction, Vivitrol may help too. For more information on Vivitrol, please click here.