Fear of Stigma: Does It Hold You Back?

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Girl upset because she feels singled out

If you’re like most people, you may try to avoid revealing anything about yourself that will make people think negatively about you. Basically, you’re avoiding stigma—which is being marked by shame or disgrace.

But what if you have a drug problem and want to get help?

For a long time, our society has “stigmatized” drug use and addiction, judging people with drug or alcohol problems. Fear of being judged can be dangerous if it keeps someone from getting treatment.

Know the facts

One way to combat the stigma associated with drug addiction is to teach people the facts. NIDA science shows that addiction is a disease, just like cancer and asthma are diseases. It’s not just that the person chooses to take drugs. In fact, an addicted person no longer chooses to take drugs—instead, their brains have been altered by drugs to the point where the person's free will has been “hijacked,” and their desire to seek and use drugs is beyond their control.

To put it another way, addiction is a disease of the brain that shows itself in compulsive behaviors. Helping people understand this sad truth may lead to more support for those battling addiction.

Words matter

It’s also important to stop labeling people as one thing or another. Try to avoid saying “addict” to describe a person. This label makes it easier to dismiss the person as not worthy of help or notice. It’s better to say, "a person with drug use problems” or “with a substance use disorder.” Those phrases may be a mouthful, but they phrases make it clear that these are people who are dealing with challenges. They are much more than just "drug addicts."

Do you avoid certain hobbies, interests, or even potential new friends because you’re afraid of what your current friends will think? What would you say to someone who needs drug abuse treatment but isn’t getting it for fear of being judged?

Find Help Near You

Use the SAMHSA Treatment Locator to find substance use or other mental health services in your area. If you are in an emergency situation, this toll-free, 24-hour hotline can help you get through this difficult time: call 1-800-273-TALK, or visit the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. We also have step by step guides on what to do to help yourself, a friend or a family member.

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