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Removing the Stigma Behind Addiction

Addiction is a disease, not a choice. Once we acknowledge this, we can break down the barriers and remove the stigma behind addiction. We shouldn’t blame someone for having an addiction - the same way we shouldn’t blame someone for getting any other disease - yet in too many cases we still do.

Just as there’s a push to reduce the stigma attached to sexual orientation, gender identity and mental health issues, addiction also needs another think. But how can we have a healthier attitude to addiction?

Learn about it

Addiction is a broad word - and not necessarily a helpful one when considering an individual’s circumstances. To break the stigma, you should research what someone is addicted to and how it affects them. Nicotine addiction, for example, can be very different (in its impact at least) from alcohol addiction - which is very different from cocaine addiction.

Just as heart disease affects the heart, addiction can cause serious psychological changes and affect the brain. It’s a complex condition and tricky to understand - and needs a more careful evaluation to be properly understood.

Understand the causes

As we’ve said before, no one chooses to have an addiction. There is usually a root problem which has caused this. Placing blame on the individual is not going to do any good, and could hinder recovery. Some causes and triggers for addiction include:

  • Genetics
  • Family history
  • Injuries
  • Peer pressure
  • Mental health issues.

Talk about it

Speaking to the person suffering from addiction is one of the easiest ways to break the stigma. As long as they’re willing to be open and honest, you can find out when it started, why it started and understand what drove them to their addiction. Some reasons why people repeatedly abuse drugs, for example, include:

  • Self-medicating
  • To feel rewarded
  • To eliminate stress.

If you choose to discuss addiction with some going through it, it’s important to be open-minded and not make any assumptions.

It’s also reliant on us all to challenge the stigma around addiction and push back against those using the language of blame.

Types of addiction

There are many different types of addiction, but they broadly fit into categories: physical dependence and psychological dependence.

Physical dependency: Physical dependency is when a person abuses substances every day; the individual will feel like they need the substance - whether it’s alcohol, drugs or prescription drugs - to function and get on with their day. Over time this can spiral - with smaller doses no longer having the same impact as they did at the start.

Psychological dependency: This is where an individual uses substances to change the way they feel and they use substances to cope with emotions and deal with everyday tasks.

How to help those suffering from addiction

Understanding addiction is important - but so too is doing something about it.

This can be done in many ways, from simply listening to how they’re feeling, to advising them to seek professional help from a specialist drug rehab environment. When you help and support someone with an addiction, you’re going to see the full picture of what they’re going through - the highs and the lows. It’s going to be tough - and perhaps in different ways to, for example, the way that it’s tough to help someone once they’ve suffered a broken leg.

You should think back to how you thought of addiction before researching it and helping someone through it. Did you think “they got themselves into this mess” or “they knew what they were doing”? By being a pillar of support and developing an understanding, you may realise that addiction isn’t as straightforward as someone “getting themselves into it”.

Commitment is the key to breaking the stigma of addiction. If you’re committed to supporting someone you know who is suffering from it, helping them seek the help they need, having patience and sticking by them and educating others who don’t understand addiction, you can make a big difference to the lives of people suffering from the disease.

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