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Getting Over the Stigma of Addiction in Recovery

September 22, 2017 Jami DeLoe

Addiction, even for those in recovery, often comes with some amount of stigma attached to it. The effects of stigma can be serious, but they can be overcome.

At times, I feel a certain stigma of addiction when I tell people that I have been to rehab for addiction to alcohol. It’s something that really bothered me in early sobriety because, even then, I saw going to rehab as a positive thing that was done to improve a person’s life. I know that when I went to rehab for alcohol abuse treatment, it was because I truly wanted to change my life and fix the mess that I was in. So, when I was met with stigma about going to rehab, it made me angry and frustrated. Since that time, I have continued to be very open about my alcoholism and my recovery, and I have learned some ways to get over the stigma of addiction.

What Is the Stigma of Addiction?

When you think about an alcoholic or an addict, what picture forms in your mind? For most people, the image is far from what addiction actually looks like. This is what the stigma of addiction is and it often gets in the way of people seeking the help they need to recover.

The image of addiction that most people conjure up in their mind is either that of an entitled celebrity or a down-and-out criminal. This contributes to society’s stigmatization of addiction – if they are not wealthy, high-profile celebrities, then people who suffer addiction are characterized as society outcasts: poor, uneducated, and immoral.

The truth about addiction is that it doesn’t discriminate. There are people who suffer from addiction from all walks of life – gender, economic status, background, race, religion, and class have no bearing on whether a person will become an addict. Most people who become addicted to drugs or alcohol are functioning members of society -- they are parents, employees, neighbors, and friends.

But when words like “addict” and “alcoholic” begin being used to describe someone, people (even family and friends) begin to look at them differently. This is stigma. It’s a negative perception imposed on a group of people by society. The perception is often based on fear, ignorance, and prejudice. And, unfortunately, it often keeps people who need help for addiction from seeking it because they are afraid of what people will think if they know that their friend, neighbor, or coworker went to rehab.

The Effects of the Stigma of Addiction

The effects of the stigma of addiction are many. And they don’t only exist about the active addict – even those who have remained clean and sober and in recovery for long periods of time may feel the stigma that is associated with addiction. One major effect is, of course, discrimination. Even though someone may be living a life of recovery, when potential employers or landlords find out that they have a history of addiction, they may rescind offers for work or housing. This discrimination can lead people in recovery to feel ashamed, embarrassed, and alone.

One major effect is, of course, discrimination. Even though someone may be living a life of recovery, when potential employers or landlords find out that they have a history of addiction, they may rescind offers for work or housing. This discrimination can lead people in recovery to feel ashamed, embarrassed, and alone.

Some people who make the huge decision to seek treatment, successfully complete rehab, and begin their new lives in recovery, find that the friends and family that were there for them before treatment, no longer want to be a part of their lives. Even so, they are the lucky ones. Many people who need treatment fail to seek it out because of addiction stigma.

Overcoming the Stigma of Addiction in Recovery

To overcome any kind of stigma, negative assumptions must be broken. That is easier said than done – especially for the individual.

But there are some things that you can do to help you personally rise above the stigma and achieving a sober and fulfilling life in recovery.

  • Acceptance – Acceptance is a must in recovery in many situations. When it comes to dealing with stigma, you have to accept that you are, in fact, a person with the chronic, yet treatable, disease of addiction. Once you accept that fact, you will be able to establish the strength that is needed to continue in recovery. Accept that addiction is not your fault. It doesn’t mean that you are weak or lack morals, and it does not make you a bad person. When you accept those things, you have taken the first step toward recovery.
  • Meetings – Whether you attend 12-step meetings or are part of another type of addiction support program, it’s important that you get to know other people in recovery. Addiction is a very lonely place to be, and recovery can be too if you don’t have the understanding and support of others. Going to meetings will provide you with fellowship and it will help you see that people in recovery are “normal” and that you are too.
  • Education – You probably learned a lot about addiction in rehab, but don’t let it stop there. Continue to educate yourself about addiction and recovery. By doing so, you are equipping yourself to overcome society’s misconceptions about addiction.
  • Speaking out – Talking about your addiction and recovery is one of the best ways to reduce addiction stigma. You can let people who don’t know what the real face of addiction looks like see what it really is, overcoming the assumptions and stereotypes that they have created in their minds. Speaking out about addiction and recovery will also help you build confidence in yourself and your journey.

Breaking the Stigma of Addiction

Most people have an idea of what addiction looks like, but not enough people understand what addiction recovery looks like. You can show others that it is possible to recover and lead a full and happy life. Even if it’s one person at a time, you can help break the stigma of addiction and help others feel more comfortable getting the help that they need.

APA Reference
DeLoe, J. (2017, September 22). Getting Over the Stigma of Addiction in Recovery, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, July 17 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/debunkingaddiction/2017/09/getting-over-the-stigma-of-addiction



Author: Jami DeLoe

Jami DeLoe is a freelance writer and addiction blogger. She is an advocate for mental health awareness and addiction recovery and is a recovering alcoholic herself. Find Jami DeLoe on her blog, "Sober Grace," Twitter, and Facebook.

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