The shame of addiction

two friends kayaking in a river surrounded by forest.

There are a few different factors that can prevent people from seeking treatment. You may be in denial that there is a problem, to begin with, or you may not know about the treatment options you have available to you. One barrier that is especially impactful in treating alcoholism is stigma. There is a public stigma towards substance use disorders; discrimination and prejudice are very familiar to most people who suffer from these disorders. Self-stigma is an experience that is less talked about but can be just as painful to deal with. 

Self-stigma happens when we internalize the public’s negative attitudes. To be clear, it never arises in a vacuum. It is the final step in society’s stigmatizing process. Most of us know about the stigma and negative stereotypes that society holds towards alcoholism, but self-stigmatizing takes it a step further; it involves agreeing with these stereotypes and then applying them to ourselves. Once we apply these stereotypes to ourselves, we may see decreases in our self-efficacy. We start to lose faith in our ability to follow through with behaviors that might improve the addiction (such as seeking out treatment). 

How do I deal with Self-Stigma? 

  • Get Treatment 

Don’t let the fear of being labeled and stereotyped as someone with an alcohol use disorder stop you from seeking help. Healing won’t be an easy journey, but it is one of the best decisions you could possibly make for yourself and your future. 

  • Don’t isolate yourself 

One consequence of self-stigma is the desire to be alone. You may have convinced yourself that you are “no good” to the people in your life anyway. You might be trying to hide the shame that you feel because of the addiction. After all, it’s a lot easier to hide your problems if you never have to interact with the outside world. However, addiction thrives in isolation. There is no shame in seeking treatment. In fact, it is the bravest thing you can do. 

  • Separate Yourself from your Illness 

Despite society’s best efforts to convince you otherwise, you are not your illness. When we define ourselves by addiction, it becomes harder to separate ourselves from our illness. Because of this, we may feel hopeless, or we will never be anything outside of our addiction. Instead of calling yourself an alcoholic, say “I have an alcohol use disorder”. This way you can start to imagine what your life could look like outside of addiction.  

If you believe that a loved one is dealing with self-stigma, there are some things that you can do to help them get through it. Use person-first language whenever you talk to or about them. For example, instead of saying that your daughter is an alcoholic, separate her from the illness by saying that she is dealing with an alcohol use disorder. Also, if you have used labels on your loved ones in the past, take the time to apologize to them and make the effort to use person-first language.  

If you want to help your loved one seek treatment, but you don’t know where to start, please contact us today. Our team is dedicated to creating a treatment program that will support their healing.