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September 14, 2021

How you can help address stigmas when it comes to addiction

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The opioid epidemic has engulfed the United States over the past several years, leaving more people than ever battling an addiction. More than 2 million Americans misuse prescription drugs while another 15 million struggle with alcohol use disorder. Many people blame addicted individuals for their substance use — and this only adds to the difficulty of recovery.

Addiction defined

Addiction, also called substance use disorder, is a disease that affects the brain and makes people unable to control their use of drugs or medications — even when that use is harmful. Someone suffering from addiction may make poor decisions to satisfy their need for a drug or substance, and going without the source of their addiction may lead to withdrawal symptoms.

Battling an addiction of any kind is exceedingly difficult, but social stigma can make it even harder: The negative views of family, friends, and others can prevent people from seeking help and may cause them to spiral deeper into their addiction.

Here are three things we all can do to help put an end to the stigmas surrounding addiction.

1. See addiction for what it is: a disease

Addiction isn’t a choice or a weakness in a person’s will. Addiction changes the way the brain works and is recognized by the medical community as a disease. It must be treated that way. When you interact with someone who is facing addiction, treat them the way you would as if they were facing any other disease.

2. Act with empathy

It’s tempting for people to blame those suffering from addiction for the choices they made or for allowing themselves to fall into addiction. It’s important, however, to be empathetic to those dealing with addiction. They may suffer discrimination in employment or in the health system — which only reinforces the cycle of addiction. Always treat those with an addiction empathetically and do your best to support them while they seek treatment options.

3. Speak out

A staggering 90 percent of people with an addiction don’t receive treatment. The language you and others use regarding addiction and substance abuse can have a significant impact on whether someone suffering opens up or seeks help. Speak up about your willingness to support them and combat negative stereotypes that can cause people to self-stigmatize.

Anyone who has battled addiction, or seen someone in their family struggle with substance use disorder, knows that support is key to defeating this debilitating disease. You can make a difference — and potentially save a life — by doing your part to battle these stigmas so those suffering can feel comfortable seeking treatment and getting on the path to a healthy life.

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