The Stigma of Addiction and Why It Is Damaging

Addicts stigma.

One cannot deny the fact that the way we perceive something, individually and as a society, greatly affects our ability for better or for worse to control or manage that thing. For example, we view politics as being very complicated and confusing, and so, politics is very complicated and confusing. And we can’t seem to control it in such a way that everyone is happy with it.

A similar phenomena occurs with drug addiction and alcohol addiction. We often stereotype addiction, individually and as a society, and the effects are always undesirable. When we stereotype addicts, we push our society that much further away from resolving the terrible addiction crisis we are currently faced with. This is the wrong path to take.

Examples of Addiction Stereotypes

Everyone will unknowingly stereotype addiction in their own way, but there are norms or usual stereotypes like:

  • Drug addicts and alcoholics are almost always wrong about the things they believe in, or they only provide half truths when carrying on a conversation.
  • Drug addicts use and focus primarily on the negative images of other people as a means to justify their own bad habits, i.e. drug abuse or alcohol abuse.
  • When addicts get into verbal fights with others, addicts immediately take the position of the victim.
  • Addicts are criminals and that is all they will ever be.
  • Addicts will poison anyone and everyone around them, leading to hatred and resentment for all, and these negative feelings within family units can destroy lives and ruin relationships.
  • Addicts are unemployable and are degenerates because they can’t keep a job.
  • Addicts are often minorities, and they are often poor or lower class. We often stereotype addicts as being the lowest of the low of society.
  • Another stereotype is that addicts are terrible parents and cannot take responsibility for anyone or anything.

These are just a smattering of the stereotypes that befall addicts. When addicts are hit with these types of labels and when society begins to view them in this way, it becomes very difficult to shift our viewpoint and our attention to helping them, as opposed to just incarcerating them or just ignoring them.

The Fine Line Between Enablement and Tough Love

Couple arguing in the cafe

There is really only one, correct way to view drug addicts and alcoholics, and that is to view them as themselves, as the individual persons they are, persons who happen to struggle immensely with a crippling health crisis that affects them terribly on physical and mental levels both.

When we apply too much of a “tough love” sort of brusque, sort if “cut them off completely” or “throw them all in jail” approach or mindset, this gains us nothing but the further ostracizing of the individuals from society.

On the other end of the spectrum, when we approach addicts with too much sympathy, too much condolences, too much “oh you poor thing” and all the rest, we actually enable them and allow for their condition to continue. Neither of these paths are the right path to take. Not by a long shot.

The right path to take when trying to help a drug addict or an alcoholic is to treat them with compassion and understanding, to not ostracize them, but to also absolutely insist that they get help. Only in this way do we actually create change. Only in this way do we actually take addicts and help them become recovered addicts. A pleasant, loving, yet firm and unwavering insistence that they get help is the correct approach.




After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.