Stigma of Addiction
Challenge of Stigma
A major challenge for those who have an addiction to drugs or alcohol is facing and overcoming stigma. Stigmas are imposed by society, communities, friends and family members and can cause major discrimination and hurt. Addiction is a disease that can be treated with appropriate medical intervention. Treatments include medication, behavioral therapy, fitness regimens, vitamin treatment or skill development. However, many people believe that addiction is a character flaw or a weakness in a person. They may believe that the alcoholic simply can’t hold their booze. Perhaps they think that the marijuana smoker just needs to stop. And they are likely to believe the person struggling with methamphetamine abuse should just smash their pipe and get over it. Unfortunately, it is not so easy to overcome addiction. There are many factors as to why a person continues to use a drug despite the negative consequences.
Dangers of Stereotypes and Stigmas
There are many different stereotypes that are brought to mind when thinking about people who are dependent on drugs or alcohol. The majority of these stereotypes make negative assumptions about lifestyles that include drugs and alcohol. People who abuse substances are typically deviants and don’t engage in society like the rest of the population. They embody different values to mainstream society: skirting the edges, unemployed, victims of bad upbringings, high school drop outs and prostitutes. They take drugs in dark, dirty alleyways or squats, rob innocent people, go on binges and engage in high risk behaviors.
The reality of substance abusers is that the majority are just like everyone else. They are parents, children, friends, workmates, sisters and brothers. They hold down jobs, have friends, go to social functions and enjoy their weekends. Some fail to manage their addiction and do become entrenched in a lifestyle that the stereotypes embody, but many do not. An addiction does not discriminate between rich and poor, young or old.
Medical workers, law enforcement, insurance companies and employers may tap into their own stereotypes if they are faced with an addict. An employer may believe that a person suffering from alcoholism is untrustworthy and fire them from their role. A police officer may think that because someone is a heroin addict that they will be involved in a theft. Most people who have a substance abuse problem are able to exist in society without causing problems for others. Substance abusers will deny their problem and hide it from others for fear of being discriminated. They will feel the shame associated with a stereotype and be weakened by the constant negative connotations of addiction. They may also struggle with their problem for too long without getting help until the consequences are too severe.
Stereotypes and Discrimination
Discrimination restricts a person’s access to necessary health care, employment, benefits and can discourage them from seeking help. Many people who have an addiction face chronic discrimination. Some employers believe that they have the right to fire an employee if they have a drinking or drug problem. Social services may cut a person off welfare payments if they find out about a substance abuse issue. Mothers and fathers are declared unfit parents because they struggle with addiction. Doctors refuse to offer treatment to someone who has a drug addiction. If this same kind of discrimination occurred for any other group of people, there would be serious repercussions.
Stigmatized Negative Language
Language plays an important role in addiction as the words we chose discriminate or help those who suffer from the disease of substance abuse. Drugs are often demonized and the people who use them are weak, selfish and destructive. Terms such as habit, junkie, wine-o, meth head and stoner all have negative connotations and infer that substance abuse is a lifestyle choice. People who are trying to fight their illness need as much support and care as possible in order to give them strength to recover. As with other terminal diseases like cancer, support is essential in treatment.
The key to reducing discrimination and removing stigmas associated with substance abuse is education and awareness for addicts and society. With tolerance and understanding, a person suffering from this disease can get the help they need in the most effective way. They will not be scared to ask for help or fear discrimination.
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You don't need to go anywhere to have destination addiction. It isn't a physical place but a state of mind. It's a term used to describe the belief that success and happiness is the destination: "Everything will be better once we're in our new house," "I'll be successful when I can buy myself a new car," "I'll be happy when I can fit into a smaller pair of jeans." Sound familiar?
It's easily done and pretty common to be looking ahead and thinking life will be better in the future when X has changed or happened.
But what does that mean for you right now? It means there's a feeling of dissatisfaction, unhappiness even, with your life as it is currently. You don't enjoy living in your current home, which you quite possibly loved when you first moved in. Now you only see faults instead of remembering the fun memories you've made there. You forget that until recently your home has been a place to share with family and friends, and a space to retreat to for comfort and rest.
Moving home is a regular part of life but pinning all your hopes for happiness on your future home, and forgetting there's still joy to be found while you're in your current home, only gives you feelings of restlessness and discontent.
With destination addiction you feel life is to make do with. Days need to pass quickly so you can hurry up and get to the good bit. And when you get to that "good bit," is life then perfect and you live in blissful contentedness? No, you get used to your new circumstances, they become the norm and you're back to looking ahead to how life will be better in the future. Your new home is great but there's decorating to do, furniture to buy -- before you know it you're thinking how great life will be when you've put in the new kitchen or painted the bathroom.
And so it continues! Even people who win millions on the lottery don't live a blissed out existence forever more. Research by Brickman, Coats and Janoff-Bulman found that while lottery winners felt an initial burst of euphoric joy, a year later their happiness levels returned to where they were before their big win.
So, how about we break this destination addiction? You should absolutely plan and look forward to moving house, save for a new car or get fit and eat healthily, but take time to enjoy your life as it is right now too.
Look around you, what's good in your life at this moment in time? What makes you smile, what evokes happy memories? Your current car might be a bit old and tired now but it's got you from A to B and perhaps C and D too. Your jeans might be a size bigger than you like but with a favourite top and shoes your reflection looks pretty good in the mirror. You're ready to be in a bigger house or in a different location but you can remember picking out paint colors and celebrating birthdays round the kitchen table.
Looking forward to new experiences or events is a source of happiness in itself, but don't sacrifice your current happiness for future dreams. You may have heard it said many times that life is about the journey not the destination and that's a pretty good way to think.
Don't get so caught up in the pursuit of happiness that you forget to feel happy on the way there.
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