erasing stigma

Erasing Stigma around Addiction and Mental Health Conditions is Key

Stigma associated with drug addiction has deterred individuals from getting the help they need to get their lives back on track. According to a John Hopkins University study performed back in 2014, negative attitudes towards people with drug abuse problems were higher than those towards people dealing with mental illness. In particular, John Hopkins found that just 22% of 709 respondents would be willing to work closely on a job with someone dealing with drug addiction, as compared to 62% of respondents who answered the same in regards to working with someone struggling with mental illness. So how do we tear down the barriers and working on erasing stigma to make sure people get the help they need before it’s too late? First, let’s examine some common misperception about use…

Misperception #1: Drug Use Is a Choice & It’s Easy to Stop

The misconceptions people have surrounding drug addiction play a significant role in creating stigma — primarily the belief that drug use is a choice and that addicts can quit cold turkey at any time. In fact, drugs have the ability to affect neurotransmitters in the brain, releasing dopamine in the process at a much higher rate than natural stimulants. When an individual quits using drugs, the brain suddenly stops releasing high levels of dopamine and the symptoms can be catastrophic and debilitating, ranging from effects that are psychological in nature, all the way to symptoms that affect the entire body. In order to avoid withdrawal symptoms, users are then caught in a cycle of continuing to use at an increasing rate.

Misperception #2: Addicts Are Irresponsible Slackers

Many people believe that addicts primarily come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds or are individuals who chose to forgo their worldly responsibilities. While drug use can be tied in many instances to cycles of poverty, that’s not always the case. For example, between 2002 and 2011, the CDC found that heroin usage increased at a higher rate for those making between $20,000 and $49,999 a year than those making under $20,000 a year. In one particular instance detailed in 2014, a JetBlue pilot was caught possessing heroin. Simply stated, drug addiction does not often discriminate based on one’s economic status, race, or success level in life.

What We Can Do About Misperception

An addict’s fear that they will be stigmatized can deter them from seeking help. Reducing stigma requires a number of approaches, including providing better education among the public — whether this arrives through public awareness campaigns intended to de-stigmatize the recent opioid crisis or more personal approaches carried out by individuals.

What Those Struggling Can Do To Overcome Stigma

Those struggling can often carry with them a sense of shame. They can feel embarrassed, and it’s important to empathize with them. Fortunately, help is often just a call away. While the stigma of addiction is real, it can certainly be overcome. There are people available who understand and work to make those fighting addiction feel comfortable and accepted.

Help can be sought in increasingly confidential and private ways. The Treatment Specialist Helpline provides treatment resources at 866-644-7911 or you can reach out to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) that’s open 24/7, 365 days a year that can be reached at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). These services connects people with local resources and treatment programs. Meanwhile, private treatment facilities are another great means for seeking treatment.

By working to change public perception and by providing a helping hand to those in need, we as a society can continue erasing stigma and make it easier for those struggling to receive the help they need to get their lives back on track.

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