Even after all the progress the recovery community has made in recent years, the stigma of addiction remains strong in our society. Stigma prevents addicts from seeking the help they need, and can linger for years, even decades, after substance abuse has stopped, causing obstacles to employment, hampering access to government benefits, and more.
But just because you’ve spent time in a drug and alcohol rehab center doesn’t mean you have to live with the stigma of addiction forever. Just by getting sober and staying sober, you are living proof that the negative stereotypes passed around about addicts and alcoholics simply aren’t true. The more you work to end the stigma of substance abuse disorders, the better you can make the world not only for yourself, but for others who are struggling with or in recovery from addiction.
Educate Yourself and Get Treatment
If you’re like many addicts and alcoholics, you’ve already experienced some of the harm addiction stigma can do, even if you haven’t entered treatment yet. Many addicts put off getting treatment for their substance abuse disorder because it would mean being open about their addiction — and they don’t want to wear the “addict” label. This fear of stigma means that some addicts might even die before they can get help.
The first step in throwing off addiction stigma is to learn about addiction and get treatment. These two things go hand in hand. In most treatment programs, you’ll receive some education about addiction, its causes and its treatments as part of your therapy. Getting help, getting sober and staying sober goes a long way toward eroding stigma, since it proves that addicts are redeemable.
Tell Your Story Publically
Sharing your experiences helps those who have no experience with addiction to put a human face on the disease. It shows people who haven’t struggled with addiction themselves that they have more in common with recovering addicts than they might have believed.
Sharing your story also helps other addicts, recovering and active, know they’re not alone. Your bravery in sharing your story publically could help another person come to terms with his or her own need for treatment. You could save lives.
Treat Your Recovery Needs as Normal
To effectively fight the stigma of addiction, don’t act as if the things you need to do to maintain your recovery are shameful or embarrassing. That just reinforces the idea that your history of addiction is something to be ashamed of, and makes the stigma of addiction more powerful.
Instead, if you need to attend a regular 12-Step meeting, see an addiction counselor, avoid keeping alcohol in the house or stay away from places where alcohol is being served, just treat these things as if they’re completely normal things to do. When you have a condition, whether it’s physical or mental, it’s totally natural to alter your lifestyle in order to manage it.
Work for Policy Changes
Much of the social stigma of addiction is codified into law, in the form of statutes that forbid recovering mothers from receiving WIC benefits, for example, or in the form of laws that make it harder for people with past drug convictions to get jobs or vote.
It’s not fair that someone who has a history of addiction should face obstacles to employment, housing and benefits, and those obstacles can make it harder for a person to recover at all. Petition your elected representatives to make policy changes that could remove barriers to employment, housing, benefits and treatment, so that recovering addicts can more easily re-integrate into normal life.
Become a Recovery Advocate
One of the easiest ways to advocate for addicts who are new to recovery is by sponsoring someone through the 12-Step program. In this way, you can help another recovering addict navigate the emotional turmoil of recovery. But you can also advocate for newly recovering addicts in other ways.
For example, you can work to help individuals and families navigate the barriers to successful treatment programs. As you well know, many people in need of addiction treatment need someone on their side who knows what questions to ask, how to wrangle with insurance companies and how to negotiate a sensible treatment plan. Recovery advocates around the country are working together to end the stigma of addiction and break down barriers to treatment.
Facing the stigma of addiction is just one of the many frightening elements of recovery from a substance abuse disorder. While recovering addicts still face a lot of discrimination, each day members of the recovery community are working to end the stigma that has held so many back. One day soon, addiction stigma could be a thing of the past.