How Does Addiction Stigma Impact People with a Substance Use Disorder?
Stigma is very common when it comes to drug and alcohol addiction. The thoughts and images we have about people who suffer from substance use disorder (SUD) are often inaccurate and harmful. People with addiction often face stigma for many reasons. That stigma can impact them in many ways, often by discouraging them from getting the help they need.
What Stigma Exists for People with SUDs?
A person struggling with alcohol and drug use is likely to have a substance use disorder, a disease that is chronic, hard to treat, and likely to create turmoil in their lives physically and emotionally. It is a disease that, like any other, requires professional care. Yet people often do not seek that care because they feel embarrassed or unsure of what is happening to them.
Our society tends to stereotype people with addiction as weak, ignorant, or unable to control themselves. Some may believe that those with SUD cannot work and just want people to help them. Others believe that SUD is something that is easy to control.
How Does Stigma Like This Matter?
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) pinpoints several ways that the stigma against substance use, and addiction can impact the lives of those with an SUD.
- People don’t get the care they need
According to the NIDA, in 2020, 12% of people who believed they needed treatment did not seek it out because they felt getting treatment would create negative attitudes from people within their community. For a person with an SUD, it may be impossible to stop using substances without treatment.
Yet some do not feel they can reach out to a treatment center because of what others may think. This belief can cost lives, as some people overdose or suffer organ failure as a result of untreated SUD.
- People fear telling others they have an SUD
For some people, the hard part is admitting they have a problem. They may try to hide their substance use because they do not want others to judge them, mistreat them in some way, or otherwise limit them from important parts of their life.
One common group affected by stigma is pregnant women. For women with a dependence on drugs or alcohol, getting help is critical to protecting the life of their child. Yet they may feel ashamed, fear social disapproval, or even fear losing their child and parental rights if they admit to needing help.
- They don’t get the quality of care they need
The NIDA states that some health professionals do not provide the same level or quality of care to people with an SUD as they do to everyone else. They have a bias towards people with addiction. That may mean that individuals who need help the most do not get it. The NIDA reports on a 2019 study that found that, though they understood that opioid use disorder was treatable, polled health care workers had stigmatizing attitudes against opioid addiction that directly impacted the care they provided.
This bias is even worse for those who face racial disparities as well. The NIDA states that for Black people, for example, delays of up to five years are common in getting treatment for an SUD.
- Some do not have access to health programs
Another stigma that holds people back is the lack of treatment options available to them. For example, those with an underlying mental health disorder may need medications to treat their condition so they can work towards sobriety. Yet they may not have access to medical health programs and health insurance to help cover the costs. They may be afraid to ask for care as a result. Some may also believe that care is just too expensive.
Self-Stigma Is a Problem, Too
Some people use substances more heavily as a result of their own self-imposed stigma. For some, there is a strong feeling of guilt associated with SUDs. They feel ashamed that they allowed this to happen. They blame themselves. That leads to the inability or unwillingness to get help. Some may believe they can fix it themselves. Others just use more because they feel lost.
Finding the Help You Need Is Step One
Stigma is a very real limiting factor, but it does not have to define your future. With the help of our team and our drug and alcohol treatment program in Lafayette, LA, you can find a way through that pain so you can feel confident about your future and about your health.
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