Ending The Stigma Around Substance Addiction

November 1, 2021


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Substance addiction has a huge stigma surrounding it. This stigma can prevent many of us from helping those who are struggling with an addiction. Below are a few of the harmful myths surrounding addiction that you need to stop believing.

‘Substance use disorder is not a mental illness’

Substance use disorder is both a physical and mental health problem. The mind and the body becomes addicted to a certain ‘high’ - after taking a substance regularly for a long period, an inability to achieve this high results in withdrawal symptoms, which can include symptoms such as depression, anxiety, nausea, muscle pain, fatigue, constipation and even seizures. 

What most people forget is that substance use disorder typically stems from mental illness. Most people use drugs or alcohol to self-medicate feelings of depression or anxiety. Substance addiction should therefore be seen as an extension of one of these mental health illnesses.

All in all, substance addiction is not just a lack of willpower. It is something far more deep-rooted and often requires professional therapy to undo.

‘Addicts should be legally punished for their behaviour’

It’s illegal to consume certain substances in many places around the world - taking or possessing these substances may be punishable with a fine or jail time. 

Getting the law involved is not always the best solution for dealing with addiction. In fact, it can often encourage further substance abuse and other negative behaviour. 

For example, those with a criminal record may have job prospects and travel opportunities reduced. This may lead to a greater feeling of depression or anxiety, which may be the root of the addiction problem.

Serving jail time for addiction can meanwhile lead to addicts mixing with more serious criminals, often resulting in them being influenced to partake in more serious behaviour. The idea that jail forces people to go cold turkey is also completely untrue - prisons are often rife with drugs despite stringent measures to prevent this. 

‘If I try to get help, I could be arrested’

Some people worry about seeking out help for someone with substance addiction, especially if they have been an enabler in the past or if they too abuse substances. It’s important to realise that there are many recovery services out there that practice discretion - they will not get the police involved unless there are other serious criminal allegations being raised.

Not getting help can be dangerous, especially if someone is having an overdose. It’s important to realise that there are often ways to help without getting police involved. Addiction advocates such as Mike Smeth offer more advice on how to get help for someone who is suffering an overdose. It is worth looking into this.

‘Addicts are selfish and have reduced morals’

Addicts are not bad people. Many are as caring and empathetic as you and I. Although they can be driven to do bad things such as neglecting children, stealing from loved ones or resorting to abusive behaviour, this is often directly due to the substance they are taking.

It is important not to vilify addicts. While you shouldn't stand for any immoral behaviour, you should try to direct blame on the substance and not the person. Some people are selfish and mean, regardless of whether they’re taking a substance - but this is only a tiny minority of addicts. Showing compassion is often key to helping people overcome substance addiction.

*contributed post*

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