For those struggling with substance abuse and other addictions, one of the biggest challenges they face is the stigma surrounding addiction. Stigma is essentially discrimination against an identifiable group of people (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2021). In relation to substance abuse or other addictions, stigmas include inaccurate beliefs that addicts are dangerous, incapable of managing treatment, or to blame for their own condition (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2021). In that way, stigmas around substance abuse interfere with a person’s willingness to receive addiction treatment. In fact, substance use stigma is one of the main reasons why addicts refrain from seeking professional treatment (Achieve Concierge, 2021).
Without the support they need and deserve, addicts are far more likely to continue their behaviours. Professional addiction counsellors should be mindful of the damaging effects of stigmas and make an effort to change misinformed ideas around addiction.
A Look at the Stigmas Surrounding Addiction
Many stigmas surrounding addiction reflect misinformation, outdated ideas, and stereotypes. Stigmas include inaccurate beliefs that addiction is a moral failing rather than a chronic, treatable disease from which patients can recover to lead healthy lives (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2021). Beyond that, addiction stigma manifests itself in different ways: through language, assumptions, discrimination, and moral judgments (Achieve Concierge, 2021).
When it comes to language, phrases like “junkie,” can be emotionally damaging to those who are struggling with substance abuse (Achieve Concierge, 2021). Professionals with addictions counsellor training should take care to use positive language when treating individuals to give them the confidence and support needed to make a recovery. Additionally, professionals should aim to eliminate pretenses of addiction being a choice or a sign of weakness in character. In reality, addictive substances can alter a person’s brain chemistry, directly impacting the pleasure center of the brain, making addiction a disease rather than a choice (Achieve Concierge, 2021). With an understanding of the societal hindrances to recovery, addictions counsellors can offer a more supportive service to clients.
How Can We Change Stigmatizing Behavior?
Destigmatizing substance abuse is everyone’s responsibility and should be a top priority for professionals with an addiction counsellor diploma. Stigma on the part of addictions counsellors who see substance abuse as a moral deficiency leads to substandard and ineffective care (Volkow, 2020). Instead, counsellors should respect the individual, including their positive traits and skills that can promote personal growth (Sherman, 2021).
Using first-person language and allowing the client to choose how they are described is a good way to encourage both confidence and agency in their own recovery (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2021). Additionally, counsellors should make an effort to remove language that equates people to their condition, thereby reminding them that they are more than their addiction (Achieve Concierge, 2021). Given that addictions counsellors are often the first point of contact for individuals, it’s important to set a positive and supportive precedent to see them through their recovery.
How Addictions Counsellor Training Can Help
Addiction stigmas can not only reduce the willingness of individuals to seek treatment, but they can also negatively influence professional perceptions of clients and impact the care provided (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2021). An addictions counselling program allows professionals to fully understand issues facing addicted clients to successfully counsel them towards recovery. With access to the most current research on addiction, counselling training offers detailed information on human development and working with specific client groups, including youth, women, and cross-cultural clients. With an awareness of the various obstacles to recovery, professional addiction counsellors can adapt their approach accordingly to offer more sensitive support to clients.
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Achieve Concierge (2021). The Importance of Destigmatizing Addiction. Retrieved from https://achieveconcierge.com/blog/the-importance-of-destigmatizing-addiction/
National Institute on Drug Abuse (2021). Words Matter – Terms to Use and Avoid When Talking About Addiction. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/nidamed-medical-health-professionals/health-professions-education/words-matter-terms-to-use-avoid-when-talking-about-addiction
Sherman, B (2021). Destigmatizing Addiction. Retrieved from https://www.smartrecovery.org/destigmatizing-addiction/
Volkow, N (2020). Addressing the Stigma that Surrounds Addiction. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/about-nida/noras-blog/2020/04/addressing-stigma-surrounds-addiction