What are the consequences of stigma?

Stigma can be defined as a set of negative and often illegitimate beliefs that a society or a group of people has a name for a particular circumstance, quality, or person. Fueled by misinformation, a great deal of stigma exists in dependent and established behavioral health services. The negative impact on stigma encompasses many things: it can lead to dismissal, transfer and discrimination, ultimately preventing people from seeking the help they need.

Why does stigma exist?

The stigma surrounding addiction is often maintained by a lack of adequate information about the condition in question. Although research helps us learn that addictions are chronic, often progressive, but treatable mental health conditions, much of the society still does not think so. More than 76% of people believe that addiction is entirely or partially a matter of choice, according to research by Recovery Brands.

People do not choose to develop addictions. Addiction is often the result of a combination of factors, including genetic predisposition and environmental influences. People who do not recognize the medical pattern of addiction may continue to perceive addiction as a problem of the will or feel that they have “caused it themselves.” They may even use derogatory terms to describe people who are struggling with addiction, such as a drug addict or a drunkard. However, like other health problems, addiction requires treatment and people who are treated deserve respect and support, just like anyone with a chronic illness – mental or physical.

Who is affected by the stigma?

Stigma unfairly blames individuals who suffer from the severity of addiction or unhealthy behavior. This can cause people (as well as their families or other loved ones) a huge shame, which in turn can prevent them from seeking treatment. In addition, stigma is the second largest barrier for people considering treatment.

Stigma can also affect the personal preferences of health professionals, and some doctors are less likely to adequately treat people with addictions or behavioral problems. In addition, some pharmaceutical companies are refusing to invest in developing new treatments for addictions or behavioral disorders – a type of policy, perhaps shaped in part by the stigma surrounding these conditions.

It affects society as a whole: when left untreated, addictions and behavioral disorders can lead to increased health care costs and legal problems. People with a history of addiction may also have difficulty finding work, which can lead to increased costs for society and loss of productivity.

More than 82% of people who struggle with an addiction have felt stigmatized. A 2013 survey shows high levels of opposition to practices that can help treat substance use, insurance, house and employment programs. Less than 25% of respondents say they want to work closely with a colleague who is an addict and 64% believe that employers should not employ people with addictions.

Almost half of the respondents believe that people who use excessive psychotropic substances should not have access to health insurance benefits enjoyed by the general public. These beliefs fuel stigma by preventing politicians from developing and supporting initiatives to help people recover.

What does stigma do?

The stigma associated with addictions and behavioral disorders has a lot of consequences. It affects not only people who are struggling with addictions, but also:

  • Their families, friends and employers
  • Employees of the legislative system
  • Medical professionals and specialists in the excessive use of substances

Those who struggle with substance addiction are perhaps most sensitive to the effects of stigma. They may feel discouraged or unable to receive treatment, as well as have difficulty finding work or receiving benefits that can help them recover.

Although there are many specialized hospitals, many private doctors and mental health professionals they refuse to work with people with addictions due to the supposedly low level of treatment success. And while pharmaceutical companies are working hard to develop new treatments for many chronic diseases, addiction treatment is not a high priority, despite the increased cost of untreated addiction.

Addiction is associated with low self-esteem and stigmatizing views on addiction can worsen this. 30% of the population believes that recovery from an addiction is impossible.