One of the biggest barriers to people getting help for alcohol/drug addiction is the stigma associated with the disease. 9/10 people with mental health problems have reported experiencing stigma and discrimination in their lives.
Stigma is a negative attitude imposed by society on people who it judges as not ‘normal’. It is a reaction of fear, ignorance and prejudice.
Addiction is a disease of the brain, this is a scientifically proven fact, but the view of alcohol and drug addiction as a weakness and a moral failing is so ingrained in society that many will dispute scientific research. When the subject arises it is not uncommon to hear things like ‘her son’s an alchie, she must be a bad mother’ or ‘another junkie dead. So what?’
Effects of stigma in alcohol & drug addiction
- Shame and embarrassment, causing people to try to hide the disease,
- Isolation and exclusion,
- Reluctance to seek help which makes recovery slower and more difficult,
- Loss of job, home or family,
- Insurance companies are able to refuse payment for addicts,
- National health services may only offer the cheapest treatment possible, even if it takes longer to see results,
- Even after investing time and money in a once-successful employee, companies may ignore the problem until they have to fire them,
- The families of addicted people are also stigmatised which causes shame, anger and guilt within the family. The stress of this can lead to medical and social problems for spouses and children.
People with a mental health illness often say that the stigma they experience is worse than the illness itself. Imagine if people with diabetes or cardiovascular disease were treated the same way!
How to cope with the stigma of alcohol & drug addiction
Accept that you have an illness, a treatable illness and it’s not your fault. Recovery from alcohol and drug addiction is possible.
Attend a self-help group like Alcoholics Anonymous / Narcotics Anonymous
Attending Alcoholics Anonymous / Narcotics Anonymous meetings will open you up to a whole new fellowship of mutual support for your addiction. You are not alone. Persuade your family members to attend Al-Anon (a branch of AA that helps families deal with the effects of alcohol and drug addiction on their lives).
Seek expert treatment
At Castle Craig we find that the educational aspect of alcohol and drug rehab brings immense relief to our patients – suddenly they know what is wrong with them, they know it is not their fault, and they know they can get better and live normal lives without alcohol or drugs. The psychological therapy and support that they receive in treatment helps to build self-esteem and overcome destructive thought patterns that lead to relapse.
Don’t isolate yourself
Speak to family and friends about how you feel and your worries about your alcohol and drug problems. They will be grateful that you are opening up to them and can be of great support in the recovery process.
Page last reviewed and medically fact-checked | October 7, 2019