substance misuse

The Stigma of Seeking Help For a Substance Misuse Problem

Addiction is a chronic illness characterised by compulsive substance use, impaired control over substances, craving, tolerance and withdrawal. It exists on a continuum ranging from mild to severe and affects an estimated 35 million people globally.

Despite its commonality, there are still many pervasive stigmas surrounding addiction which make it difficult for those seeking treatment or recovery coaching to reach out for the help they need.  People mistakenly believe that those affected have the ‘power’ or ‘choice’ to stop using drugs. This stigma is often internalised by the user themselves, who ask themselves questions like “Am I weak?”, “Is there something wrong with me?”, “Why can’t I just stop?”

Alongside this, actually seeking help for substance abuse comes with its very own set of stigmas. Fear of being labelled a drug addict or alcoholic often deters people from taking control of their habits and continues the cycle of abuse and denial. Common terms like “junkie”, “crackhead” and “alkie” do little in the way of the language we use to describe addicts, and only serve to enforce the negative beliefs around addiction.

Surprisingly, stigma among medical professionals working in substance abuse is also rife. Studies have shown that many doctors and nurses hold negative views of drug users, thus affecting their willingness to offer treatment. This can stem from a lack of education about addiction, as well as a fear of irrational behaviour by drug users (for instance aggression during withdrawal.) This highlights the importance of choosing healthcare professionals with experience in addiction support, that possess the necessary tools to aid those suffering from substance misuse disorders.

Ultimately, this shows that there is plenty of room for improvement when it comes to how we view drug and alcohol problems. Addiction is a disease, and like with any other disease there should be no stigma attached to seeking treatment and asking for help. Asking for help is a giant leap forward, and a powerful first step to freedom from active addiction.

The more we talk about these issues and aim to dispel these stigmas, the easier it will become for those who are suffering from addiction to access the help they need and start on their road to recovery.

Image credit: Milada Vigerova via Unsplash

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