addressing Stigma

addressing stigma after addiction treatment

What is Addiction?

Addiction is characterized by repeated use of drugs, alcohol, or participating in other behaviors despite harm to one’s self and others. Addiction can control and negatively affect someone’s life in many ways. Those struggling with addiction must receive the proper care and support needed to recover.1

Signs and Symptoms of Substance Use Disorder (SUD)

When someone is struggling with substance use disorder, it can be difficult to spot the signs and symptoms of their disorder. Oftentimes, those struggling will try to cover it up and act like there is not a problem. This behavior is often due to the stigma associated with addiction. It is challenging for someone struggling with addiction to admit that there is a problem. Common signs and symptoms of substance use disorder may include:

  • Feeling like you must use the substance regularly to feel normal.
  • Experiencing intense urges to use the substance.
  • Needing to take higher doses to get the same effect.
  • Spending money on substances even though you cannot afford it.
  • Neglecting work or family responsibilities.
  • Feeling withdrawn from social activities.
  • Failing in attempts to stop using drugs or alcohol.
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms if you stop taking the substance.
  • Sneaky behavior or stashing drugs or alcohol around the house.2

If you or someone you know is exhibiting any of these signs, there are resources available that can help. Talking to a medical professional or going to a treatment center is often a good first step to get the help that’s needed.


Commonly Abused Substances

Many types of substances have the potential for abuse. Some of the most abused substances include:

All these substances can have dangerous effects if abused over a long period. If you or someone you know is abusing one of these substances, proper treatment and support is available to help with recovery and getting on the right track.

Statistics on Addiction Rates

Addiction takes a toll on millions of people every year. The following statistics show how addiction can affect someone’s life in many ways.

  • Almost 21 million Americans struggle with addiction each year, but only 10% of them receive treatment.
  • Drug overdose deaths have more than tripled since 1990.
  • In 2017, 34.2 million Americans committed DUI.
  • About 20% of Americans who have depression or anxiety also have a substance use disorder.
  • More than 90% of people who have an addiction began drinking or using drugs before the age of 18.
  • Americans between the ages of 18 and 25 are most susceptible to abusing addictive drugs.3

Factors that Contribute to Addiction

Many factors may contribute to addiction such as genetics, environment, trauma, mental illness, and peer pressure.


Scientific studies have proven that genetics affect how likely someone is to be susceptible to developing a substance use disorder. According to the American Psychological Association, “at least half of a person’s susceptibility to drug addiction can be linked to genetic factors.”4


The environment that someone grows up in or lives in has also been shown to have an impact on susceptibility to addiction. If someone is surrounded by others who abuse addictive substances, they are more likely to participate in the same behaviors.


Trauma can have a significant impact on someone’s mental health and well-being. It can also cause someone to be more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. Many who abuse addictive substances do so as a way to self-medicate due to other underlying conditions, such as trauma.

Mental Illness

Mental illness and addiction often go hand in hand. Studies show that approximately 1 in 4 individuals who have a diagnosable mental illness also have a substance use disorder.5 When someone struggles with both mental illness and addiction, both conditions must be treated together to get the best results.

Peer Pressure

Peer pressure often contributes to people using addictive substances, especially at young ages. Being surrounded by people who abuse addictive substances makes someone more likely to do the same.


The Stigma Surrounding Addiction

Stigma is often cited as one of the leading causes of why someone chooses to not seek treatment for their addiction.

Why Is There a Stigma Towards Addiction?

Oftentimes, the stigma surrounding addiction is based on how the public views this disorder. Many people who are not educated about addiction believe that it is a sign of moral weakness or that addiction causes people to be disorderly and disruptive. There may also be a public belief that anyone with an addiction problem cannot hold a job or have a family, even though this is not always the case.

These beliefs harm those who struggle with addiction as they often feel like a failure for their issues. The key to aiding those with SUD and decreasing the stigma towards addiction is educating the public. While there has been a progression in teaching the public about the stigma surrounding addiction, there is much more work that still needs to be done.


Public Figures who Have Recovered from Addiction

If someone is struggling with addiction, they may feel like there is no way out. However, there are many resources available that can help. Many people who have struggled with addiction go on to live successful lives.

  • Robert Downey Jr.: Despite his success as an actor, Robert Downey Jr. struggled with addiction for many years. He states that he first began using drugs with his father and felt like it was the only way he and his father could connect. Downey relied on many holistic therapies and worked through a 12-step program to get his addiction under control.6
  • Drew Barrymore: Drew Barrymore has a well-known story about her struggles with addiction. She started using addictive substances at the age of 9. She ended up checking into rehab at the age of 13. Eventually, she published a book, Little Lost Girl, where she talked about her childhood struggles with addiction.6
  • Elton John: Elton John has spoken about his struggles with addiction that occurred from the mid-1970s up to the 1990s. He started using cocaine to feel more socially accepted. Elton John experienced many overdoses throughout those years and says that he feels lucky to be alive. In 1990, he was finally able to commit to recovery and has been sober ever since.6

How to Address Stigma Towards Addiction Treatment

Educate Others About Addiction

There are many ways that you could educate someone about substance abuse. When teaching someone about addiction, it’s important to provide them with factual information on the following topics:

  • What substance abuse is
  • How and why substances are abused
  • Signs and symptoms of addiction
  • Information on how alcohol and drugs can affect the mind and body
  • The consequences of addiction
  • How to be supportive in the recovery process7

When speaking to someone about addiction, have an open and honest environment where both sides can share and ask questions as needed. Teaching someone about the topics surrounding addiction can reduce the stigma and provide them with resources so they can effectively support someone who is struggling.

Reducing the Stigma Surrounding Addiction

There are many different ways that the stigma around addiction can be reduced. Education about this issue is important, so others know how to appropriately handle it. When speaking about addiction, it can also be effective to personalize these topics and share positive stories about people who have overcome addiction. Addiction can take a toll on someone’s life, but it can be overcome with support and understanding.


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