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Overcoming Stigma: Breaking the Silence Around Addiction Recovery

Overcoming Stigma: Breaking the Silence Around Addiction Recovery

You’re bound to struggle with many challenges when you’re in recovery. However, you might not realize how powerful one of them — addiction stigma — can be. Addiction is quite stigmatized and can become so overwhelming that many people in recovery wonder if they should bother getting treatment. The answer, of course, is that they should. Yet it’s still difficult to deal with others’ reactions when they discover your sobriety journey.

Why does addiction stigma exist, and how does it manifest itself? Since the beginning, people who struggled with alcohol and other addictions tended to be ostracized. Though we live in a time of great advocacy and better understanding now, many people still hold onto the stigmas of the past. 

Yes, professionals may spend National Drugs and Alcohol Week talking with teens. Nevertheless, those teens may not realize that how they refer to people in sobriety makes all the difference in how those people are “seen.” For instance, it’s not uncommon for people to use stigmatizing words for addiction. Calling someone a “pothead” or a “meth head” isn’t useful. It’s harmful, but it’s accepted in general conversation.

Another way that addiction stigma bubbles to the surface is how those in recovery are treated. Often, they have trouble getting employment. Even their relatives may be hesitant to give them a chance. While this is somewhat understandable, it can make recovery and sobriety much tougher. 

How You Can Be Part of the Addiction Stigma Solution

If you’re being perfectly honest with yourself, you may realize that you’ve fallen into believing stigmas about others addicted to alcohol or substances. You may even self-stigmatize. This isn’t healthy or beneficial. Instead, try these strategies to help everyone realize that addiction should be acknowledged and understood but never downplayed or stigmatized.

1. Use positive words for addiction recovery.

One of the most immediate ways to break the silence around addiction is to stop using negative words to refer to addiction. Consider the term “addict”. Though the word makes sense, there are other words for the addict that are far less demeaning to the individual. 

Some alternatives for “addict” could be “person in treatment,” “person in recovery,” or “Individual with a substance use disorder.” Making just these simple substitutions changes the conversation and takes the “blame and shame” attitude off the table. Plus, you’ll notice in time that those you care about (and who care about you) start to use the same positive tone when referring to addiction.

2. Teach others about what recovery entails.

Far too many people have been educated on addiction and recovery based on what they see on television and in the movies. Unfortunately, the big screen often is more hype than help. True recovery is very misunderstood. Most people are under the wrong impression about the emotions and physical responses involved in early sobriety. 

As someone who’s been through the experience, you’re in a terrific place to educate your friends, colleagues, and family members on what addiction recovery is like. Just be prepared to answer lots of questions. People are often surprised when they find out it’s far different than what they imagined or were led to believe.

3. Look for opportunities to advocate for other people’s treatment.

As you move into your sober years, you may want to help others get into treatment. Sadly, the addiction stigma can be so intense that some people avoid getting the desperately needed assistance. Again, this is where you can be honest and open as an advocate for the treatment process. 

Case in point: Maybe a coworker admits to having a substance use disorder but is afraid to start treatment for fear of being alienated by relatives and buddies. You can calmly explain what happened in your situation, which might encourage your coworker to take the major step toward calling a highly reputed treatment center like the Blanchard Institute. 

You can’t change everyone’s feelings or beliefs toward addiction. Some people take a long time to come around — and others may never let go of their tendency to stigmatize those who’ve gone through recovery. With that being said, you can do your best to contribute to removing the shame from sobriety and focusing on what a joy true recovery can bring to someone’s future.

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