Silence and stigma have been known to be the biggest barriers to people who are trying to get help for substance abuse. Research shows that 9 out of 10 people who suffer from it have experienced stigma and have been discriminated.
Stigma is the negative way of thinking levied by society on people who are judged as something that is not “normal.” It is usually a reaction of fear, unawareness, and bias.
Addiction is a brain disorder. This has been scientifically proven. However, with alcohol and drug abuse, society sees them as a weakness or moral failure that many disagree with scientific research. When this topic comes up, it is common to hear judgmental statements like “Her son’s an addict, she must be a bad mother.”
Stigma and silence have destructive effects, says Dr Maher Soudah, director of Kaiser Wellness Center. A person who is addicted to alcohol or drugs experiences discrimination, shame and embarrassment, and isolation and exclusion. These cause them to try to hide the disease. They will then be hesitant to seek help, which will make recovery slower and more difficult. The families of addicted people also experience this stigma because it causes them shame, anger, and guilt. This makes people who suffer substance abuse, and their families, suffer in silence, resulting in miss opportunities to get treated.
“Silence and stigma affects people with drug and alcohol problems their whole life,” says Dr Maher Soudah. “These people feel trapped in their homes because of the judgment or hostility that they encounter from their neighbors.”
The day-to-day bias experienced creates a lot of obstacles for those recovering from substance abuse. Even if they already stopped using and are already recovering, people still withdraw from them. This makes it even more difficult for them to get a job or to build new relationships.
Public aggression can also make it more difficult to seek help and get treatment. The fear of being exposed as someone who has a drug or alcohol dependence can hinder them from buying their medications. These negative attitudes are not just from the ignorant public. Research also shows that addicts experience the same barriers when dealing with professionals who should help them recover.
Problems with silence and stigma are not just experienced by those who are still substance-dependent. People who already managed to overcome substance abuse continue to experience the same hostility, judgment, and distrust. The stigma they experience endures a mark that defines them which doesn’t stop even if they fully recover.
“For addicts, the suffering from the health condition, the social barriers, plus the possibility of never being able to get rid of the label of being called an ‘addict’ can be a barrier to overcoming their problem,” adds Dr Soudah.
How does one cope with the silence and stigma of substance abuse?
Acceptance. It may be one of the greatest challenges, but you and your family must accept that you have an illness — an illness that can be treated. It is also important for you and your family to think and feel that it’s not your fault. It IS possible to recover from alcohol and drug addiction.
Attend self-help groups like Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous. This will open you to a network of mutual support for your situation. You are not alone in this battle. You can also invite your family members to attend groups that support and help loved ones who deal with addiction on their lives.
Seek professional help. The psychological therapy and support obtained during treatment helps patients know what is wrong with them and that it’s not their fault. “Rehabilitation allows them to see that they can get better and that they can live normal lives without the abuse of drugs or alcohol,” notes Dr Soudah. “The treatment helps them build self-esteem and overcome negative thoughts that may lead to relapse.”
Don’t detach yourself. Open to your family and friends on how you feel, what your worries are. They will appreciate the fact that you are talking to them. They can also be a wonderful and solid support system during your journey towards recovery.