How Stigma Makes It Hard for People to Seek Treatment for Addiction

The stigma surrounding addiction recovery makes it hard for people to get treatment.Addiction is often accompanied by shame in the public eye, as depictions shown in the media portray a less-than-optimal view of someone who is going through more than what is seen on the surface. For those who don’t understand, it’s easy to judge – to assume that people choose addiction. The reality is that addiction isn’t the problem in someone’s life, it’s the solution to other problems they face – and without the right tools, resources and support, many people just don’t know where to turn. A 2017 study published in the Journal of Bioethical Inquiry noted that stereotypes about who people with addiction “really are” makes it only harder to move on, to recover, and to be part of society. The study’s participants provided several examples of this in their statements, such as:

  • Not wanting to be alone with someone’s possessions in fear that someone might think they stole something
  • Feeling as though they’ll never be able to get out of addiction because nobody else believes they will
  • Worried that what they say will be twisted into words that only serve stigmatization
  • And more

What happens for many people with addiction is that the stigmatization they experience becomes pointed inward, and they self-stigmatize; when this happens, they begin to dismiss themselves as valuable people who deserve to be a part of society – and so they withdraw and the continue to abuse substances in order to forget or set aside the negative feelings that come from society’s shame. As The Fix explains it, society tends to view addiction as a moral failure – they stated,

“When people obtain a stable recovery they are always presumed to be on the verge of relapse. The label, shame and stigma of problems with substances is always around – once an addict, always an addict.”

If you’re struggling with addiction, know that you’re not alone – and you deserve a safe, respectful environment where you can thrive.

Cumberland Heights is a nonprofit alcohol and drug-addiction treatment center located on the banks of the Cumberland river in Nashville, Tennessee. On a sprawling 177-acre campus, we are made up of 2 12-Step immersion campuses, 12 outpatient recovery centers and 4 sober living homes. We believe that each person has a unique story to tell – and that’s why we always put the patient first.