Overcoming the Stigma of Drug or Alcohol Dependency

Many Americans perceive individuals who have substance abuse problems as outcasts in society.  Some think they are uneducated, poor or immoral. Unfortunately, these misconceptions have contributed to widespread myths about addiction. For many men and women, they fight not only the disease of addiction but also the stigma associated with it. Denial and social embarrassment force many people to suffer in silence rather than seek treatment.

While the reasons for stigma are numerous, the public generally views drug and alcohol abuse as a choice rather than a serious health condition.  Stigma creates obstacles to proper treatment and hinders recovery.  These obstacles perpetuate substance use and can lead to other serious problems such as family violence, poor academic performance, legal problems, and the spread of infectious diseases. Individuals faced with drug or alcohol problems are also impacted by public and private health-related policies that may restrict their access to appropriate health care, public benefits, housing or employment.

There are many small steps individuals and their families can take to fight addiction and overcome stigma in their own lives and the lives of others.

Learn the Facts:

Addiction is a chronic, but treatable disorder of the brain and body chemistry. People who have dependency problems find it difficult to control their desire for drugs or alcohol despite serious health, social or legal consequences. This inability is the result of complex physical, genetic and psychological factors. Addiction results in changes in both behavior and judgment.

The truth is addiction affects everyone. Addiction is not limited to any race, gender, religion or nationality. A person’s economic status is not an indicator, nor is their occupation. Those suffering from the disease or in recovery do not fit into any one particular category. Teachers, doctors, business professionals, law enforcement…attorneys, laborers, nurses…coaches, elected officials, athletes or actors, can all struggle with addiction. Substance abuse can affect anyone, from moms and dads to teenagers and senior citizens.


Many people who have substance abuse challenges remain in denial about their problem. Often a person’s family suffers by living with someone who is alcohol dependent, or dealing with the repercussions of drugs. Families can be reluctant to acknowledge their loved one’s suffering because they too feel guilt or shame for not being able to help them stop. Learning to accept that you or someone you love has issues with addiction is a difficult process. Understanding that it is not your fault can help you begin to transition towards rehabilitation.

Speak Out:

Once a person goes through rehabilitation, it is imperative that they pass on their experiences to others. The public needs to hear first-hand accounts of the suffering and heartache that addiction causes, and how the pervasive stigma deepens the suffering.  Everyone can benefit from knowing how men and women on the road to recovery can inspire others in similar circumstances. This will help to educate those who are not familiar with the disease and its ramifications.

Community Advocacy:

Many people who have successfully overcome their addictions can help combat the stigma and join community recovery advocacy organizations or support those currently in rehabilitation. Concerned citizens can call or write local newspapers and other media to investigate and accurately report the perceptions and strides made. Elected officials can be contacted on a host of related topics, for example to expand insurance coverage for treatment, or to make recovery housing available.

Taking Action:

Addiction is a deadly disease that requires immediate attention. For many people facing substance abuse concerns, seeking treatment can be a frightening experience. Unfortunately, avoidance only makes the problem worse. There is no better time than now to take action. Each and every day a person makes a decision to get help. With one phone call, a person’s life can be saved.

To learn more about anti-stigma and get the help you deserve, contact the Nassau Alliance for Addiction Services (NAFAS), log on to: www.nassaualliance.org. If you need immediate help or advice, call the 24/7 New York State HOPEline at 877-8-HOPENY (877-846-7369).

Additional websites that may be of service if you or a loved one suffer from a dependency problem: