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How Guilt and Shame in Addiction Recovery Won’t Help

Breaking The Stigma To Help Overcome Addiction

It’s no secret that those who take drugs in the United States are often looked down upon by their drug-free counterparts. In fact, addiction stigma has become such a troubling problem that 35.1 percent of adults with a drug problem who didn’t enroll in mental health care in 2014 said they didn’t do so because of social concerns.

Instead of focusing on their own health and happiness, 10.6 percent were more concerned that their neighbors and community would have a negative opinion, 9.5 percent were worried about their jobs, 7.8 percent were worried about confidentiality, and 7.2 percent simply didn’t want anyone to find out about their problems.

While there’s no statistic on how many people died as a result of not getting treatment, even just one death due to addiction stigma is too many. It’s important that we begin to teach the world to be more open-minded when it comes to addiction and the people it affects. It will help alleviate some of the guilt and shame in addiction recovery.

Different Types of Addiction Stigma


Unfortunately, many people might not even realize that they’re perpetuating the stigma of drug addiction. One of the biggest forms of stigma perpetuation comes in the form of labels and hurtful words. Using terms like “addict” and “junkie” can isolate drug users and make them feel less like people and more like diseased degenerates. That sort of guilt and shame in addiction recovery is rarely productive, and can even be hurtful.

Keep in mind that those who use drugs are people too, and are more than their addiction. Instead of labeling them by their faults, use more general terms that do not define them solely as a person that does drugs.

One study looked at how people perceived those in drug rehab. Two separate groups were given a description to read of a person who had a drug addiction. In the first group, the person was referred to as a “substance abuser,” while in the second group, the person who called a “person with a substance abuse disorder.” Unsurprisingly, the “substance abuser” group placed more blame on the person and didn’t think they needed treatment.

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It’s important to realize that no one’s path to addiction is the same as another’s. People might get started on drugs for a variety of reasons, and by making certain assumptions, you can make a person feel belittled and weak. For example, never assume that:

  • Addiction was a person’s choice
  • Addiction means a person is weak or lacks willpower
  • A person had bad parenting

It might not seem obvious to some, but people who do drugs are often just like those who don’t. The only difference is that they’ve stumbled a bit along the way. In fact, the overall risk of anyone developing addiction is 15 percent, meaning there’s a good chance it could happen to those who stigmatize.

Reinforcing these assumptions tends to increase the guilt and shame in addiction recovery and even cause some to develop anxiety or depression related to their addiction. This can even lead to a dual diagnosis. Such a development can decrease the likelihood some develops the motivation or feels the support to find help.

How We Can Change Stigma Perceptions

There are many things that healthcare professionals, governments, and the general public can do to change how people perceive addiction. In fact, the state of Massechusetts recently decided to take a stand against stigma by starting the #StateWithoutStigMA campaign. This informational program is intended to help people learn more about hurtful language and the danger of making assumptions.

While this is just one example, it’s a step in the right direction that the nation needs to follow. Once addiction is better understood by the general public, people who take drugs will feel less ashamed and afraid of getting treatment for their problems.

With more people in treatment, more lives will be saved. There may even be fewer relapses and an overall decrease in drug use. Regardless, reducing stigma will help people live better lives. It reduces the guilt and shame in addiction recovery and helps prevent relapse.

Don’t Let The Stigma Stop You From Getting Help. Call our addiction toll free line now at: 800-910-3734