A study conducted in 2010 suggests that over 60 percent of the people who admit to an alcohol problem are shy to get treatment. Do you know why? This is mainly because there is a stigma associated with being an addict.
There are several thousand problem drinkers all over the world who believe that alcohol addiction is a stigma with an extremely negative stereotype. And this belief is particularly strong among minority groups and women.
If you have a friend or family member who has an alcohol addiction, this is perhaps what their mind reads like:
“I am intensely fearful of judgment, it is almost tormenting..a sort of mental anguish. I am okay with the people who are unaware of my addiction. It is the people who know me, my friends, my family, my pharmacist, whose presence makes me highly uncomfortable. I keep wondering what they must think of me…”
Media’s Role in Stigmatization of Addiction
The media seems to have played a huge role in creating the stigma around alcohol and drug abuse. If you go by the media, an alcohol/drug addict is either a law offender or a high-society person such as a celebrity. And we, of course, have blindly absorbed this perception. In case an addict is not a high-profile celebrity, he/she is perceived as a society outcast-immoral, illiterate and from a poor economic background.
In reality, there isn’t any single face that represents addiction. This is a disease that affects individuals from all economic and social classes, age groups and races. And a majority of the people diagnosed with addiction are actually functional society members. They could be parents, neighbours, friends, employees and even your house help.
Alcohol Addiction is a Disease, Not a Weakness
It is still quite difficult for people to understand alcoholism as a ‘disease’. In reality, it is actually similar to any other medical condition such as high blood pressure or diabetes. Most people continue to believe that addiction is a ‘weakness’ or a ‘character flaw’ and has no cure. No wonder people struggling with addiction try so hard to keep their disease under covers. And their families are equally ashamed to face the world because of the fear of being judged and/or isolated.
While it is hard to understand a disease which you haven’t experienced personally, it definitely helps if you try. This is the only way we can get past the stereotypes. Think about it: would you ever judge someone suffering from high blood pressure or diabetes or any other serious medical condition? Probably not. If people stopped viewing alcohol addiction as some sort of inherent weakness, a greater number of addicts would perhaps seek help more readily.
Shame and Guilt as Barriers to Recovery
Majority of the people suffering from alcohol addiction may be able to live in the society without directly harming others. They are usually in denial of their problem. Most of them try and conceal it because they do not wish to be discriminated. There is a lot of shame linked to this stereotype and addicts feel weakened by all the negative perceptions around the disease. Sadly, most of them continue to struggle with the issue for a long period of time without getting any help. Only when the consequences become too serious to handle, there is a chance of breaking through the denial. In many cases, an addict will hit what is termed as a ‘rock bottom’, when he/she loses physical and/or mental health, finances or close relationships.
Ending Discrimination and Moving Towards Recovery
Why is there such a dire need to stop discrimination against abusers? The most negative consequence of discrimination or stigmatization is that it withholds the addict from taking necessary steps towards recovery. They won’t seek help simply because they believe that they are unworthy. For instance, fathers and mothers are commonly declared as ‘unfit parents’ for the simple reason that they have an addiction problem. Employers may fire workers if they identify them as alcohol or drug abusers.
If such discrimination continues, there could be severe repercussions for addicts, including loss of life. Let’s break these stereotypes and make space for recovery.
Here is how you can play a role in reducing stigma:
- Be willing to offer compassionate support to an addict
- Try and listen without passing judgments
- Show kindness to those in a vulnerable situation
- Do some research and learn more about the disease of alcoholism
- Try and separate the person from the alcohol to develop greater empathy
- Show respect towards people with a dependency problem
- Replace negative perceptions with real facts
- Avoid using hurtful labels
It’s time that as a society we raise our standards and start talking about addiction openly. Talking about it will create awareness, which will eventually help both the addict as well as their families.