BREAKING THE STIGMA OF ADDICTION

Thou Shalt Not Judge


Cancer, hypertension, diabetes, and epilepsy are all examples of diseases that a person can acquire. When a person tells their friends and family that her or she is diagnosed with kidney disease, they are given support and encouragement to maintain a healthy lifestyle. A friend will tell them, “If there is anything I can do to help, just ask.” The response is rarely one of judgment, gossip, ridicule, disrespect, or dissociation from a person with a “medical” disorder. Unfortunately, a person that is suffering from the disease of addiction may not receive the same supportive feedback.

There is a great deal of stigma attached to the word “addiction”. According to Merriam-Webster, a stigma is a mark of shame or discredit. A person with an addiction must often face being judged, labeled, and criticized for having that disease. This phenomenon can be attributed to the reality that most people do not consider addiction to be a disease, as they do diabetes or cancer. Many believe addiction to be a moral matter. The fact is addiction is a disease. It affects both the mind and body.

Is Addiction a Real Disease?

There is a standard set of criteria for any illness to be deemed a disease. The first criterion is that a disease is progressive, or gets worst without treatment. The second criterion is that a disease is chronic, which means that although it can be treated, it is long-term and life-long. Fatality is the next criterion. If the disease is not treated, then it can lead to death. A disease is a primary illness. In other words, the disease is its’ own illness, not a symptom of another disease. Another criterion is that without treatment, there is a loss of control. Symptoms cannot be controlled unless there is treatment or a lifestyle change. As a final point, it can be treated or managed. If addressed appropriately the disease can be managed to avoid further progression of symptoms, loss of control, and fatality. It is key to note that the World Health Organization, American Medical Association, and American Psychiatric Association all view addiction as a disease. Below is a table that compares how addiction and diabetes both fit the criteria of being diseases.

Untreated Addiction Compared to Untreated Diabetes

CRITERIA
DIABETES 
ADDICTION 
PROGRESSIVE  
Elevation in blood sugar levels, excessive thirst, frequent urination, increase in appetite, loss of weight 
 Increase in amount of drugs/alcohol, Increase in time spent using and/or seeking drugs/alcohol, increase in obsession and compulsive, increase in negative behaviors, loss of jobs, physical health, motivation, healthy relationships, spirituality, self image
CHRONIC 
There is no cure 
There is no cure 
FATAL
If no treatment, death can occur 
If no treatment, death can occur 
PRIMARY
It is not a symptom of something else
It is not a symptom of something else
LOSS OF CONTROL
Blood sugar level can not be controlled without proper diet and or medications. If no treatment, then symptoms will increase.
Inability to control how much and how often drugs/alcohol are used, Inability to control addictive behaviors
TREATMENT
With proper medical attention, medication, and/or lifestyle changes diabetes can be managed (stable blood sugar level, decrease in other related symptoms).
If properly addressed (treatment program, 12 step meetings, medications, lifestyle changes) then addiction can be managed (no drug/alcohol use, decrease in negative behaviors, improvement in relationships, job status, health, and self –image.


What Factors Can Lead to Addiction?

I have heard people say that someone with an addiction chose that lifestyle, so it’s their burden to bear. A person must take accountability for his or her own actions, however before judging someone try to understand. I haven't met anyone that said they wanted to be afflicted with addiction. So what are the dynamics that lead someone to addiction?

Trauma is an important factor that must be considered. National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that as many as two-thirds of people in drug treatment programs reported being abused as children (Swan, 1998). Imagine a young girl that from childhood through adolescence was abused physically, emotionally, and sexually. Now at 15 years old, she has trauma, poor self-esteem, poor self-identity, and lacks healthy relationships within her family system and begins using drugs. Should this girl be judged? Or should there be an understanding of the motives behind her behavior. This is not said to condone the behavior, but rather to gain insight into how someone can become involved with drugs or alcohol. Can you help someone that you are judging?

There are other factors to note, as well. In many cases, people with addictions have parents, caretakers or other family members that also have addictions. There are different beliefs as to whether it is a genetic disease or a learned behavior. Either way, there is a definite connection, which is one reason why addiction is considered a family disease. Inability to cope with stress or negative feelings also attribute to some people falling into the grasp of addiction. When someone has a headache they may take an aspirin. Many people use drugs to avoid feeling emotional pain. Finally, most people begin using drugs during adolescence. This is a time when many feel that they are invincible and consequential thinking is not exactly at its best. This makes the youth most susceptible to risky behavior, such as drug use. Before they realize, they are caught up in a whirlwind called addiction, which will follow them well into adulthood.

How Does a Stigma Affect Someone with Addiction?

For a person dealing with addiction, admitting that their use is actually a problem is a vital step. Overcoming stigmas are difficult and is often a barrier keeping people caught in the addiction trap. Stigma keeps people from seeking help. Often people are afraid of being judged and criticized. It is important that a person has support, which a friend or family member can not provide if they are labeling, disrespecting, or gossiping about the person struggling with addiction. Most people fighting addictions already have a diminished self esteem and the stigmas that our society has often reiterates self defeating beliefs.

Final Words

Anyone can be susceptible to addiction. Not one factor alone determines who will be affected by addiction. It affects people of all races, religions, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Knowledge is instrumental if the stigma of addiction is to be arrested. First, one must recognize that addiction is a disease. Second is to understand the factors that can lead to addiction. And above all, knowing that no person is without flaws, one must be open-minded and willing to accept others, without trying to label or judge.

http://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/factsheets/long_term_consequences.cfm

Annesia S.

Comments 11 comments

John Paraison 5 years ago

A wonderfull follow up towards your first article "cravings". The reality is that often times people are afraid to get help with their addiction because of stigmas. This article helps educate people on the truth that addiction is as much a disease as cancer, or high blood pressure.


gwendolyn harrison 5 years ago

This is a great piece of work, very informative . I once knew a girl who was pregnant and was too worried that the medical staff would be to judgemental, which caused her to loose her baby to the system and was treated poorly by the medical staff.The loosing of her baby sent her on a downward spiral.You know alcohol causes more damage to the body than any drug but is accepted by society, seriously what's up with that.I don't believe people should not turn their noses down at addicts or alcoholics you never know what could happen to you , your family or God forbid your children. No one says when I grow up I wanna be a drug addict or alcoholic


Joseph Richardson 5 years ago

Well written article I strongly agree with you on the addiction note, and yes the hardest part is admitting to it. I personally believe it is a disease. great article Annesia. very helpful and informative. people should definitely read this.


alice goeloe 5 years ago

people who judge others are often the ones who create stimags,and are the most difficult to help if they fall into addiction because of shame and guilt. your article clearly shows that a disease is not something that's done on purpose or a deliberate way of life but a sickness that is treatable just like any other disease.you would not go to another family member to treat a backache or a cold, you would seek medical help which is the same action to take for an addiction.thank you for sharing a more clear vision of stigma.


Husky1970 5 years ago

A well written and very professional hub. You know and share the topic of addiction extremely well. I enjoyed and was quite impressed with this hub. I would be very interested in your opinion of the book, "Basketball Junkie" of which I wrote a hub a few weeks ago.I would value your opiniom. Voted up, useful, and interesting.


justfortoday profile image

justfortoday 5 years ago from Brooklyn, NY Author

Thanks, John. I will definitely be writing more. Stay tuned.

Gwen, thanks for the feedback. Your friend's story is common, unfortunately. Many don't seek help for those same reasons. Knowledge is key.

Joseph, thanks for reading the article. And yes, it is def a disease. A treatable one.

Alice, thanks for sharing. Shame and guilt keep people stuck and makes ti so difficult to reach out for well needed help.

Thanks, Husky! I appreciate the feedback. I work as a counselor and want to pass on as much info as I CAN. I will definitely read some of your hubs. Thanks again.


bdouglas 5 years ago

I enjoyed reading this article and thanks for your comments on my hub. God bless. I am very interested in following your hubs and can use the information as I am a counselor, also!


Erin 5 years ago

The stigma that comes with addiction needs to be broken. Opiate addiction is on the rise and we are losing people left and right. People need to talk about what is going on and stop being embarassed about their situations. Addiction is a disease just like any other. Speak up before you lose your loved ones.


Barry Lessin 5 years ago

Outstanding article, Annesia!

The chart is a great way to graphically look at addiction as a disease and your tie-in with stigma is right on target. Keep up the good work!

www.barrylessin.com


lilian1 profile image

lilian1 5 years ago from Hertfordshire England

Great hub voted up :)


Useless itch 17 months ago

Great hub! What most people don't realize is that the actual drug use is only a symptom of the disease of addiction! This is a very important distinction to make in understanding addiction and breaking the stigma attached to it. There is also a great need to differentiate between "drug addiction" and a "physical drug dependence"! There are similar behaviors and feelings between the two. The qualifying difference is that a physical drug dependency CAN be cured while drug addiction can only be arrested through lifelong treatment. I am thankful for your genuine concern and your willingness to educate the world about this disease!

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