Addiction Stigma: Shifting Cultural Perception

addiction stigma

Ending the American opioid epidemic, arguably, starts with killing the stigma that has long accompanied people living with substance use disorders. For centuries those suffering from addiction we considered to have a moral failing and a weak constitution. And because of which, the few treatments available up until recent decades were both harsh and ineffective.

Even after there were treatment centers available that utilized effective science based methods, acknowledging the disease model of addiction; lawmakers continue to stick to their guns in support of draconian drug laws for punishing illicit substance users.

Today, there scores of studies available which support the disease model of addiction, and much of the American population now views addiction as a sickness rather than a shortcoming. Part of the reason for the paradigm shift in thinking is due to the opioid problem in America, practically every adult has a connection to someone who has or is dependent to opioids. What’s more, this particular epidemic is unprecedented in a number of ways, and unlike the previous drug epidemics we have faced, this one primarily affects:

  • Caucasians
  • All Socioeconomic Tiers
  • Residents of Suburban and Rural America

Keeping that in mind, many lawmakers who were traditionally in favor of locking up addicts for non-violent drug offenses, are now singing a different tune. While the change is welcomed in the addiction community, there is still much work to be done—especially when it comes to stigma. It is a sad truth that many opioid addicts fail to seek help because of fears of being branded a failure by their peers. Naturally, consternation about seeking help can be deadly, as is evident by the 78 opioid overdose deaths in this country everyday.

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy met with The Huffington Post’s Editor-in-Chief Arianna Huffington to discuss the addiction crisis in America. While Murthy agrees that we need to change prescribing practices and train doctors how to spot addiction with patients so they can get the help they need, he said we need to “change how our country sees addiction.”

“For far too many people living with addiction, they feel that they are living with stigma,” said Murthy. “Many people see addiction, still, as a character flaw or a bad choice. They don’t recognize that addiction is in fact a chronic disease of the brain.” 

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