Coping With the Stigmas of SUD

Unfortunately, uninformed stigmas of individuals with substance use disorder (SUD) are common. Most people do not understand that addiction is a chronic disease, not a moral weakness or compromised willpower. It is caused by significant changes in an individual’s brain structure. This makes it incredibly hard for an individual to stop using drugs and alcohol.

This condition can wreak havoc on a person’s mental and physical state. It can also be tough to overcome the illness without professional help. When other people stigmatize this condition, it can affect people with SUD and negatively impact their mental health, presenting another roadblock that keeps them from healing.

Stigmatization Overview

According to the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, stigma is a negative and immediate disapproving attitude toward a group of people with certain attributes. Put more simply; stigma is when people carry a negative stereotype and discriminate against others based on incorrect assumptions of their specific characteristics.

Poorly viewing and negatively comparing a group of people to others in society can lead to a negative quality of life for that group. For example, stereotypes can influence others to feel pity, anger, and fear toward others with addiction. As a result, society begins to develop a desire to distance themselves from individuals with SUD socially. Public perceptions are strongly driven by social norms, which go unchecked and lead to more division and stigma.

Why Stigma Is Harmful

People may believe it is dangerous to associate themselves with individuals who have SUD. Others may feel people with SUD are incapable of getting better. They begin to blame them for their condition and claim that they could stop if only they wanted to enough. This view is inaccurate as SUD is not a matter of willpower but serious brain dysfunctions requiring treatment. Everyone facing their battle with addiction comes from a unique background.

Genetics, trauma, abuse, stress, mental illness, and environment can increase someone’s chances of developing an addiction. SUD is a chronic disease, but the condition is treatable. Over the years, it has been clinically proven that individuals can recover and live happy lives with a positive future.

The Importance of Choosing the Right Words

As stated by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, words and language have an incredible impact on developing and retaining certain stigmas. Language may perpetuate inaccurate thoughts surrounding SUD that are entirely unfounded. Changing the conversation around addiction can significantly destigmatize the disease

Specific terms can perpetuate stigma, so using accurate language is essential. Some words to avoid include:

  • Addict
  • User
  • Drug abuser
  • Junkie
  • Drunk
  • Alcoholic

Substitute the terms above with appropriate terminologies, such as:

  • A person with substance use disorder
  • An individual with opioid use disorder
  • Someone who struggles with addiction
  • An individual who is in active use
  • A person who engages in hazardous alcohol use

How Can Stigmas Make a Person With SUD Feel?

Feeling stigmatized can reduce individuals’ willingness to seek treatment. Allowing stigmas to flourish can negatively impact a person’s mental health. As people with mental health conditions and SUD become more aware of public stigma, they internalize and apply the words to themselves. A person receiving stigma is at risk of facing further mental challenges associated with SUD. 

An individual may experience decreased self-esteem, experience shame, and embarrassment and may develop reduced efficacy. This can discourage them, cause them to hide their issues, and reject treatment options. Self-stigma can be a barrier to community integration and recovery as a whole.

Using Therapy to Heal From SUD and Stigmas

According to new research by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is an effective treatment option for individuals facing mental health challenges associated with SUD. This form of treatment combines counseling and other behavioral therapies with medication. MAT helps individuals change their attitudes and behaviors to cope better with the adverse effects of SUD. 

Group therapy is also a great treatment option. Working through thoughts and feelings with like-minded people dealing with similar experiences can be highly beneficial. Discussing the stigmas that society adopts can provide the support needed to move past the negativity. It is a wonderful opportunity to make new connections and open up unique opportunities for an individual seeking positive change. Support groups like 12-Step programs can help individuals understand that SUD is a disease requiring outside help.

Outpatient counseling is also helpful for learning more about one’s addiction. This helps them recognize their symptoms and reflect on where the disease started. Inpatient rehabilitation allows an individual to take advantage of 24-hour support by living in an environment that provides recovery services without temptations or the distractions of negative stigmas. These treatment options can work to prevent a potential relapse or drug overdose. 

Managing the mental health effects caused by stigmas surrounding addiction can be difficult to overcome alone. Different mental health and addiction treatment programs can help. Here at 12 South Recovery, our Orange County Drug Rehab programs combine therapy, counseling, and medical support to create a treatment plan specifically designed to help clients safely step down from addiction to tackle the emotional, behavioral, and mental problems behind SUD. We use evidence-based treatment, medical staff, and licensed therapists to ensure every patient has the tools to recover and regain control of their lives. If you or a loved one are in need of professional support, call 12 South Recovery at 866-839-6876 to get started today.

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