Today, most people see addiction as a personal failure. When they discover that someone has been using drugs or getting drunk, they are likely to be judgmental. For instance, the results of a study done by John Hopkins University show that generally people have negative attitudes about addiction. Furthermore, the study revealed that the general public does not support health insurance, housing, or employment policies that might benefit the life of an addict. Apparently, it seems that the public is still unclear about whether to see addiction as an illness (such as cancer) or as a personal failure that one needs to overcome.
However, if the public were to change its perspective on addiction, it might save the lives of many men and women. One of the primary reasons why a person does not get treatment is because of the stigma it holds. Those who are addicted to drugs, alcohol, or behaviors (gambling, food, sex), might be more willing to get the help they need if doing so didn’t mean being judged.
When a person discovers that they have diabetes, for instance, he or she might work closely with their doctor. They might watch what they eat, take the appropriate medication, and even attend support groups for those with diabetes, if the illness was severe enough. Because there is no social stigma against physical illnesses and because it’s even well accepted by the public to visit the doctor for physical disorders, then a person is usually ready and willing to get the medical assistance they need. Sure, some people don’t like doctors or they fear contracting another disease while at a hospital. But those things aside, generally people are very accepting of seeking medical attention.
Here are some significant benefits of seeing addiction as an illness versus a personal failure:
- Thousands of lives could be saved because more men and women would be willing to get the help they need.
- Families would be more willing to talk about addiction versus brushing it aside, ignoring it, and developing unhealthy relational patterns such as enabling and codependency.
- There might be less reports of police brutality against alcoholics and addicts of illicit drugs.
- There might be a greater social infrastructure for getting addicts off the street and into rehab facilities.
- More and more health insurance companies would cover addiction treatment services.
- Employers might provide more support to employees who are struggling with an addiction.
- There might be less addiction in general. Most people have an addiction (to sugar, caffeine, work, sex, etc.) but these addictions don’t generally interfere with a person’s life so they’re not seen as a problem.
If you are struggling with an addiction and you’re aware that the public stigma of addiction is holding you back, a mental health provider might help. Not only discussing your feelings thoughts can be supportive, but you can also weigh out the pros and cons of seeking addiction treatment. You might be able to move past the social stigma so that you can get the help you need.
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