Our Stigma of Addiction

Original image via Bing Creative Commons, courtesy of Cinezapping.com

Ever since Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death, the world has been in an uproar over the mess our country is in when it comes to drug addiction. How did the addiction problem get to the point of competing with Cancer as one of the top deaths in the United States?

On the east coast, there are several states where heroin addiction is the most used drug reported when a client enters rehab. Not alcohol, not pot or coke. It is opiates and heroin. Even death rates have grown over the past ten years due to the increase of heroin and prescription drug abuse.

Should we be blaming anyone? Maybe you feel the doctors are to blame? Do you think that addiction is a character flaw?

Before my son entered his stay in the long term rehab, a few years back, I had been battling with the stigma of his addiction. Embarrassment was what I had been taught to feel over such a topic. I thought I was a terrible mother for having a child become an addict. So I wanted to start blaming the doctors for his problem and everyone else for that matter. The doctors had turned my son into a bad person.

Well, that’s not actually how it is.

Our country needs to change its perception the same way they changed their perception about slavery, women’s rights, and the gay rights movement. If the perception changed for our attitudes about addicts, perceptions of our addicts would begin to change too. They search for relentless compassion and understanding and can never seem to find it unless they are in the room of fellow addicts who are trying to overcome their similar needs. We need to remove the stigma from addiction. Addicts are not evil people. They never were bad people before they began using. It is the chemical entering their bodies that made it hard for their brains to think correctly, making it hard for them to make sound choices.

The perception for Recovery from addiction needs to change too. They have to work at their recovery on a daily basis, and it will be a struggle for the rest of their lives.

Our nation must first learn compassion toward our addicts in order to help them want to seek recovery. Most are too ashamed to admit they have a problem, causing a vicious cycle.

They can’t admit they need help; therefore, they don’t have a problem. This makes things spiral down more and more over time. Using is a game of roulette, gambling their life away. At any given moment, they could take that one dose that ends their life.

When my son was young he was a truly talented kid. He listened when he was told to do something. Even in school, he was a grade A student.

Then things changed almost overnight. He started keeping friends with a rough crowd. That is misery keeping company with misery. Next he wouldn’t do as he was told and began behaving as that of a delinquent. His grades fell, and next came the life of crime.

His life depicted a downward spiral filled with embarrassment and shame for him and for me.

When he entered his rehab program, things began to change. Not only was he educated about his addiction, but I was, as well. Both of our perceptions began to change from that moment on. Just by this change of how I viewed his emotional stability and his mental health due to his drug usage I began to learn compassion.

Many addicts complain about aches and pains. They blame these aches and pains on things they may have done in the past or in the present. With knowledge learned, the addict’s family will learn that these aches and pains are actually clues to the addict being clean or sober. This is how their bodies react to the abuse of substances. The number one organ that causes these aches is the liver seeking to remove all the toxins from the body as fast as it can.

Just this knowledge by itself allows the family member to know that the addict’s aches and pains are not the family members fault. This allows the feelings of embarrassment and shame to be replaced with compassion.

Perceptions like these take time to change. But the more we learn about addiction and how to cope with it, maybe we will be able to find hope in our hearts for all addicts.


How has addiction affected your life?

Do you feel it is time for society to change the way they feel about addiction?


4 thoughts on “Our Stigma of Addiction

  1. Thank you for posting this and being honest about your son and your journey with him. I haven’t had a direct experience with someone who has an addiction, but I have heard people talk about how tough it is to with it – and to live without it.

    I agree that social perceptions about addiction and other mental illnesses need to change. Stigma and ignorance still abound and have the very unfortunate effect of making it much harder for people to seek help when they need to.

    It comes back to education and, as you say, compassion. The more we know, the less we fear, the less we stigmatise. Compassion isn’t expensive but its worth is beyond value.

    All the best to you and your family!


    1. Sally, thank you for stopping by. I do agree compassion and education are the greatest tools the public can use to battle addiction and mental illnesses. I had to come to terms with my son’s addiction as quickly as possible. I learned early on that his recovery begins with me. I’m hoping that by my speaking out about his addiction others will begin to accept their own loved ones battles and find compassion in their own hearts.


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