Stopping The Dangerous Stigma of Addiction: What You Can Do To Help

“You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.”  – Margaret Thatcher

Most people with substance use disorders will often admit that they fear telling others about their addiction. The fear stems from worrying about the consequences they will face from disclosing this information, such as losing their job, friends or even custody of their child. Many worry that they won’t be looked at the same and will be judged as a criminal, morally bankrupt, or mentally unstable. Because of these fears, most people with substance use disorders stay isolated, and this isolation can lead to a higher risk of relapse. So, why is this happening? Because the stigma surrounding addiction still exists.

Defining the Stigma of Addiction

The National Institute on Drug Abuse claims that substance use has resulted in over $600 billion annually in costs related to crime, lost work productivity, and health care. Drug rehabilitation, education, and treatment can reduce these costs. However, with addiction stigma still a significant issue in this country, many individuals will not get the help they desperately need.

Dr. Kelly, an Associate Professor of Psychiatry in Addiction Medicine at Harvard Medical School, states in the Carlat Addiction Treatment Report, “Stigma is a condition that can be socially discrediting. When it comes to substance use disorders, internalized stigma can lead to feelings of shame. Often, people who suffer from addiction feel discriminated against. People also feel very bad about their behavior, and over time they get more disillusioned with themselves and their own ability to change.” 

Kelly goes on to say that stigma and discrimination occur not only during active drinking or using, but also when “individuals get into early remission and even sustained remission. We just completed a large national study, where we found that roughly 25%–30% of people in long-term recovery still experience discrimination and stigma.” The consequences of addiction stigma can push those struggling with substance use disorders to live a life filled with guilt, loneliness, and shame – resulting in relapse and a vicious cycle. 

How does addiction stigma manifest in society?

Discrimination: as the above statistics demonstrate, the stigma surrounding addiction can be a barrier to a range of opportunities, especially those involving employment. Many individuals are denied job opportunities, career promotions, and even “getting their foot in the door” after an employer learns of a person’s addiction history. Others in both active addiction and recovery face discrimination because of policies in areas such as voting rights, insurance, education, and even finding housing.

Societal rejection and false assumptions: when it comes to those with a substance use disorder, cultural assumptions and false beliefs play a significant role in the stigma surrounding addiction. Perceptions such as those who use illicit substances such as heroin or meth are criminals, morally corrupt, manipulative, and can never be trusted. In fact, there tends to be a more substantial stigma towards those who use illicit/illegal substances as opposed to legal ones, such as alcohol. The false assumption that those suffering from a substance use disorder “choose ” to be addicted to alcohol or drugs is also pervasive in society. The more someone with addiction feels rejected by others or seen as “less than,” the less likely they are to get the treatment they need to live a life in sobriety.

Stopping the Stigma of Addiction

Today, the stigma of addiction still poses a barrier to the proper education of substance use disorders and effective addiction treatment. So how do we address this issue? Here are a few ways to help end the stigma of addiction:



The way we talk about substance use disorders and those battling addiction can lessen the stigma surrounding the subject and correct stereotypes. Words like ‘addict,’ ‘junkie’ and ‘pill-popper’ dehumanize those struggling with addiction. Instead of saying someone is an ‘addict,’ say “someone battling a substance use disorder.” Instead of calling someone an alcoholic, it’s more accurate to say “someone who has an alcohol use disorder.” Focusing on the correct medical terminology will force people to see that addiction is a disease and to treat those dealing with it as a medical problem and not a moral issue.



Re-structuring and re-shaping the portrayal of drug or alcohol addiction in the media, online, and in entertainment can also help correct the stereotypes and miseducation that negatively impact the way substance use disorders are addressed in society. Funding more programs that educate families, communities and educational institutions (such as medical schools, healthcare clinics) on substance use disorders will also help in putting an end to the stigma of addiction.

Other Ways To Help

Addiction and Treatment

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction to drugs or alcohol, there are several ways to get help. Don’t let the stigma of addiction keep you from getting the treatment you need to lead a healthier life in recovery. Often, people who suffer from addiction or substance use disorder also live with an underlying or untreated mental health condition. Fortunately, both conditions are treatable. At Daylight Recovery Services, we tailor treatment to simultaneously address addiction or substance abuse along with any co-occurring disorders. If you or a loved one is struggling with a mental health condition and a substance use disorder or addiction, get help now—contact us at 1-833-2DAYLIGHT to speak with one of our recovery experts. Through treatment, recovery is possible.