How is Stigma Affecting Those with Addiction?
Stigma is defined as “a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.” Stigma in and of itself is incredibly damaging, as society perpetuates and then suffers from it. Stigma produces hatred, disgust, bullying, and more, affecting millions of people around the world. Media has an enormous impact with this, because music, movies, and television depict societal perceptions (or what perceptions society should have) and therefore shape our language and culture. Unfortunately, self-stigmatization is a common outcome of this, causing a person to believe that they are none other than the very negative, harsh, degrading views that others with misunderstandings have of them. In turn, this causes many people with addiction to not seek help – either for fear of not being adequately supported, or because just as they’ve been told, they too believe they cannot recover.
Medical Director Sarah Wakeman from Massachusetts published via Harvard Medical School that even our language – take, for example, the terms “addict” or “abuser” – directly shape our perceptions of others. Instead, we should aim to say “those with addiction” or “those who abuse substances” – why? Because no matter who you are, you are a human being. You are not your disorder. A 2017 article published in the Journal of Bioethical Inquiry identified a term called the “looping effect”, which highlights a negative cycle:
- Society stigmatizes a person (in this instance, those with addiction)
- Individual begins to take those attitudes upon themselves, engaging in self-stigmatization
- Since individual buys into this belief, they perpetuate their own cycle of substance abuse and related behaviors because they feel they are not worthy/are not capable of recovering
- This then “proves” to society that their perceptions were “right”, thus justifying to themselves the reasons behind their stigmatization
- Go back to number 1
As you can see, this dangerous cycle doesn’t stop – and something’s got to give. As a society, we must demand open representation on media. We must correct misinformed individuals in a respectful way, and must continue to educate ourselves on the reality of addiction. Lastly, we must provide love and support to those we care about – by doing these things, perhaps we can make a positive dent in the harmful cycle of addiction and stigmatization.
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