Addiction; The Ever Present Stigma
I’m an addict currently active in sobriety. I’m also diagnosed with mental health diseases which too, are currently being treated and under control. So of course, I sure know what stigmas are. I’ve been able to relate to them for many years. I recently did some reading in the Understanding Addiction and Recovery book, and they went over stigma a bit.
They wrote that there are three different types of stigma, all of which coordinate to topics of addiction and mental health. I wanted to share the three different types I learned about, and offer some of my own insight into how it all fits together, piece by piece.
Stigma is alive in well when it comes to mental health diseases, and addictions. Technically, addiction is a mental health disease, it’s just that critics like to categorize them as different things. The perceived experts, (you know the ones who say addiction isn’t a disease, it’s a choice) have always distinguished there being two separate categories, with of course addiction, dependence and substance abuse being way worse than mental health problems like depression, anxiety, bipolar, etc etc.
My regular readers have probably known for a long time, that I myself do not believe in that philosophy. I believe in some diseases and problems being more serious than others, but I don’t think it’s about there being worse things than others.
The word worse can connect back to personal opinion, while serious may tend to be a little bit more based on fact.
But back to stigma; stigma is a terrible thing. And there are different kinds of stigmas too. Merriam Webster defines stigma as “ a mark of shame or discredit.” The definition is short, sweet, and cuts to the case rather accurately. I think it’s accurate, and I do relate.
When it comes to the specifics of mental health, stigma goes further with the definition, stating that stigma is “when people have trouble seeing the whole picture of what’s to be understood.” Some may use phrases like closed minded, impatient, lack of understanding, etc etc. Whatever the case, generally speaking, it’s a scenario of misinformation, or unfair thoughts or treatment. Without factual regard or back up. The line between fact and opinion can become strongly blurred.
The main form of stigma is what the experts call Enacted. It is the enacted stigma that probably comes to mind first, when we take our first thoughts from the word stigma. I have myself, been on the receiving end of this type in countless ways.
It’s one of the more direct stigmas that cause discrimination. It can cause people to get passed up for jobs, schooling, and benefits for potential housing. It’s taking a look at a person as a number, or a record on a piece of paper, and passing assumption and judgements on who the person now is.
I have myself been turned down for dozens of jobs, careers, and even volunteer opportunities because of this. And although it often times was quite understandable for denying me because of a past legal problem, it still doesn’t make it always a fair move., even to this day. Even with my bad choices throughout my life, I was not always automatically reflective of a legal mistake made years before. Afterall, I was a person who has learned many priceless, valuable lessons.
Many say that a person who has learned their lesson from such tough times may often actually be a better employee than others. I think my experiences could had certainly helped my qualities as an employee. But only I knew that.
Many will offer no compassion, still quick to say that it was my choices, even when years ago, that are to blame. That right there, is a result of thinking that reflects a stigma that was put unto me.
With enacted stigma also comes the very traditional type. The one as it relates to losing friendships, relationships, and being ghosted. They all fall under this category too. Reason usually being that we burned so many bridges with these loved ones that trust is just not an option any longer. I have been very transparent about the relationships I have lost, and the loved ones I have hurt. I lost a lot of trust, which brought forth endless stigmas.
Another type of stigma is one that involves assumptions. More specifically, self perceived assumptions. Ones I’ve put unto myself. I used to be seriously self conscious of my problematic history. I’ve had very low self esteem, making wrong judgements that were sometimes false assuming that I would probably getting judged. It went go from basic self consciousness, all the way to total paranoia. I was totally sure that I was being looked at in a suspicious manner, whether we really are, or not.
One of the more powerful stigmas, for my own example in my life is the last type of stigma. The one that I many times, projected onto myself. A very fitting named called, self stigma.
It is the true amplifier of some of the worst feelings I ever felt; that being self loathing, fear, guilt, and shame. I had zero confidence in ourselves.
It is due to those feelings that often isolated me from the world. It’s almost like enacted stigma, only backwards. Avoiding relationships, family, friends, jobs, and worst of all, we isolate from factors that may well just save our lives, like going to a detox and a rehabilitation. I’ve avoided and isolated from all of them.
There’s so many answers about this topic that have just not be found. It can be so difficult to change opinions, especially when this is a situation where usually, the opinions on both sides of the debate are rather strong and emotional. I myself could write for eternity on what I feel is wrong with these stigmas and why. Unfortunately, the people that are against these negative stigmas are quite often the ones who have either suffered themselves, or the people that are the loved ones of the sufferers.
I don’t know why these type of strong stigmas still have so much life, when it’s the people who believe these stigmas that are the ones that are almost never educated or knowledgeable on the topic themselves. It’s a sad fact that is almost laughable, because it’s so ridiculous.
Thank you for reading!
is a Trenton, New Jersey Author, Publisher, Columnist, Editor, Advocate, and recovering addict, covering topics of mental health, addiction, sobriety, mindfulness, self-help, faith, spirituality, Smart Recovery, social advocacy, and countless other nonfiction topics. His articles, publications, memoirs, and stories are geared towards being a voice for the voiceless. Hoping to reach others out there still struggling.