Although addiction is seen more and more as condition requiring treatment rather than a personal failing deserving of punishment, there is still a long way to go. More than 40 percent of Americans still believe addiction comes from weakness or a lack of willpower. Even people who think of addiction as a disease are wary about associating with people struggling with addiction or recovering from addiction. This stigma isn’t just a matter of hurt feelings. It is one of the major reasons people don’t seek help. Here are some ways you can help reduce the stigma of addiction.
Pay attention to your language. Be especially careful of language that is disparaging or dehumanizing. Dismissing someone as an addict or junkie ignores the fact you’re talking about a real human person with a life-threatening condition. It can be hard to keep up with whatever vernacular is currently considered polite, but a good litmus test is to replace addiction with cancer and see whether it sounds mean. Speaking from a place of empathy and compassion is the best practice.
Talk about your experiences with addiction. People really don’t know what a widespread problem addiction is. Everyone assumes he knows what an addict looks like, but he usually doesn’t. People quietly struggle with addiction in all kinds of ways. One way you can bring attention to this fact is to honest about your experiences with addiction. One of biggest factors in changing Americans’ attitudes toward LGBT people was more people coming out of the closet. Suddenly, everyone realized he had a gay friend or relative. People’s attitudes change quickly when they realize they might be hurting someone they care about. Owning up isn’t always easy, but together it can make a big difference.
Speak up when you hear something wrong. Addiction is a common topic of conversation lately, as the opioid crisis gets more and more attention. You may hear people expressing opinions like there needs to be a crackdown on addiction, addicts should be locked up, medication assisted treatment is just replacing one addiction with another, and any number of talking points and platitudes that only pour gas on the fire of the opioid crisis. Even if you haven’t struggled with addiction yourself, you can correct some of these misapprehensions when you happen to hear them. Of course, changing minds is often slow, futile work, but you can still help by trying.
Stay informed. You can’t speak up if you don’t know. There’s a lot of contradictory information floating around. You can generally find reliable information in major newspapers and popular science publications. They aren’t always right, and addiction is a new field that’s always evolving but they typically cite current research and credible sources. Knowledge is power.
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