Addressing the Stigma of Addiction

Summary of: Addressing the Stigma That Surrounds Addiction on Scientific American, May 11, 2020.


Key Points:

  • Resources that could prevent many deaths are available, but these tools are not being utilized widely enough

  • The stigma around addiction prevents addicts from seeking help, and actually plays a key part in driving addicted people to continue using drugs



Tens of thousands of deaths per year are caused by drug or alcohol misuse. Healthcare has provided effective medications that could save the lives of many, but the stigma around addiction prevents those with alcohol or substance use disorders from seeking help.


Stigma has formed around addiction, mental illness, cancer, and HIV. Although some attempts have been made to reduce stigma around certain conditions and making them less taboo, the reality is that there has not been much improvement, especially in the case of substance use disorders. The public continues to stigmatize those with addiction and blames them for their disease, often believing that addiction is caused by weakness and flawed character.


Some healthcare providers even reject patients with drug or alcohol problems. Patients who visit in an intoxicated state are assumed to only be seeking drugs, so they are turned away without any treatment at all. The humiliating rejection experienced by people who are stigmatized for their drug use drives them to continue (and possibly intensify) their actv\ive drug-using. The stigma becomes internalized, and people with addiction refuse to ask for help in the future.


The first step to reducing the stigma around addiction is to treat them with compassion. We need to recognize that addiction is a complex brain disorder and stigmatizing those who need help will only keep the cycle of addiction going. Our goal should be to facilitate recovery as quick as possible.


Read more on Scientific American.

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