Why Stigma About Addiction Is Harmful

At some point in our lives, people have witnessed stigma about addiction. On television, in the movies, in the media, on social media and in general conversation. Calling someone “the town drunk” or a “crackhead” is not only cruel but such a blanketed statement to describe a person is not helpful for their potential recovery efforts. There is a lack of empathy or understanding for people who are being callously labelled and stigmatized. 

People with addiction are mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters with hopes and dreams. People with addiction are hurting and are often not able to help themselves. Society seeks justice and equality for other groups of people, while still perpetuating ignorant and harmful stigmas about people with addiction. This ignorance is harmful because it can actually prevent people from seeking the help they need. This ignorance is harmful because people may actually believe the labels and give up on themselves.

Stigma Relates to Ignorance

Stigma results in widespread ignorance. In the case of addiction, the idea that the person has some kind of moral flaw or weakness, lacks self-control or simply chose this life is unfortunately a widely perpetuated set of beliefs. Yet no part of that is true. Unfortunately, many people who struggle with addiction are ostracized, they lack the treatment and support they deserve, and they end up believing these ideas, too. Perpetuating ignorance is very dangerous for everyone involved. 

Stigma Can Discourage the Person Who Needs Help

Ignorance is dangerous, but the biggest danger is when the person with the addiction actually believes what is being said about them. This can damage self-esteem, which is often already dangerously low when a person is addicted to drugs or alcohol. When you get treated like trash for so long, you begin to believe that you are trash. With little to no self-worth, why would a person believe that they are worthy of anything other than such treatment? Yet this is simply not true. All human beings are worthy of being treated with dignity and should believe they are worth the effort.

Stigma Can Act as a Barrier to Treatment

When someone is marginalized or bullied for substance use, they may not seek treatment. This type of barrier is created from stigmas. The barrier can sometimes be two-fold: 1) The person doesn’t believe they’re deserving of help or 2) They are afraid of being labeled if they have to “go into rehab.” As it relates to the latter, for example, when someone is diagnosed with cancer, there are no stigmas or barriers to getting treatment—they are encouraged and supported to get the help they need to beat such as awful disease. Yet treatment for addiction offers similar life-changing and potentially life-saving opportunities, thus, seeking treatment to recover from substance use should also be encouraged and supported.

Stigma Can Rob a Person of Needed Support

When those around a person with a substance use disorder start to believe the stigma and choose ignorance over love and friendship, they rob the person in need of their support. At a time in their life when they could use the most love and support, they are instead left feeling alone. Rather, education and empathy go a long way to maintain the support and love from friends and family for the individual who needs treatment.

The Value of Empathy

Empathy is a high-level emotional skill that goes a long way to someone seeking help for an addiction. Having an awareness of the human condition and being willing to reach out to help others who are struggling can actually be mutually beneficial. Being willing to support someone in seeking treatment for addiction can change a life.


Stigma harms those who have an addiction, impacting their self-esteem and self-worth, and possibly even preventing them from seeking treatment. Buying into old and tired stereotypes harms everyone and denies them the chance to learn something new, to be a good human being, and to participate in someone’s life-changing treatment. At DiscoveryMD, we support breaking dangerous stereotypes by empowering you to change your life and make a difference. Contact us to find out more. We believe in you.

Call for a Confidential Consultation(888) 526-3066
Call Now Button