Removing the Stigma of Addiction

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Removing the Stigma of Addiction

By Northwestern Medicine

Plus, How to Tell if Someone’s Addicted

People who have an addiction are often looked down upon and blamed for their addiction, rather than being seen as people who are ill and in need of medical care. Removing the stigma around addiction is one of the first steps to addressing this growing problem.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 20.5 million American adults aged 12 and older are battling a substance abuse disorder. About 15.1 million reported alcohol addiction while 2.1 million had a substance abuse disorder involving prescription pain relievers. Yet despite these staggering numbers, the stigma of addiction persists. In a recent study, fewer than 1 out of 5 Americans are willing to closely associate with someone suffering from drug addiction.

“The stigma can easily prevent persons from seeking help from family, friends, and even from healthcare providers, ” says Jeffrey Johnson, DO, medical director of inpatient addiction and substance abuse services at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital.

Another thing to consider is sedative and stimulant addiction risks, too. Similar issues of abuse, tolerance, addiction, and toxicity may occur with these drugs. Treatment providers often have to sort out the multiple drugs used simultaneously, adds Dr. Johnson.

Removing the Stigma

Ultimately, the stigma surrounding addiction can lead to guilt and shame, causing people to hide their addiction and prevent them from getting the treatment they need.

To help stop perpetuating the stigma of addiction:

  • Get to know more. Just like heart disease impacts the heart, addiction results in physiological changes in the brain. Causes of addiction can be extremely complex and vary by the type of addiction. Understanding how and why addiction occurs can help reduce the stigma surrounding it.
  • Talk about it. Discussing addiction helps humanize the disease and shows recovery is possible.
  • Show compassion. If you notice any signs of addiction, say something. People with addiction need help and support, not scorn and shame.
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