Addiction: The Stigma, Guilt and Shame

Photo of desperate young drug addict wearing hood and sitting alone in dark

It is easy to sometimes judge those struggling with addiction and view them as less valuable members of society. Society tends to look at them as irresponsible people, moral failures and weak, mentally unstable people. We are kinder to people with mental illnesses than to those who suffer from addiction. The twist here is that addiction is a mental illness, it is a brain disease.

It might be a good exercise to examine why exactly people fall victim to addiction as we will see that they are not the failures society thinks they are, and we will view them more kindly. In addition to that, we should examine how our stigma and shaming is making matters worse for people dealing with addiction.

  1. Human adaptation: as human beings, we all have a strong sense of self-preservation (some stronger than others) and that teaches us to avoid getting hurt. We automatically avoid or try to escape anything that might hurt us and when it comes to evading emotional or psychological hurt, we turn to things like internet, food, sex, gambling and work. All of us have had our moments when, under immense pressure, we have sought escape by turning to something else, sometimes healthy and sometimes not. Some people, however, choose to turn to things like drugs, which are by nature addictive substances, thus falling into the pattern of compulsive behaviour and becoming dependent on those substances. The bottom line is that the action is a universal one of human adaptation.
  2. Judgement impacts treatment and recovery: Stigma turns people against one another and themselves and this throws a stumbling block into the path of those who are in recovery or are about to commence the process of recovery. When we stigmatise people, we make them into people with a sort of character defect that we are better off without. This attitude and rejection causes people struggling with addiction to withdraw into themselves thus reducing their chances of seeking or staying in treatment. People struggling with addiction also judge and stigmatise themselves. Because of their addiction, they begin to view themselves as deviants, weak and abnormal people. This internalised stigma takes a toll on their self-worth and self-esteem which are key components of successfully kicking a habit.

Support over Denial and Stigma

Stigma is simply a result of denying what addiction really is and that people struggling with it are of lesser importance or value. We as a society should choose support over stigma. If we truly want to take addiction out of the equation, stigmatisation is definitely not the way to go about it. We need to learn to:

  • listen without judging
  • be kind without condemning
  • avoid labelling people
  • not judge a book by its cover
  • respect people struggling with addiction

People who are struggling with or affected by addiction deserve and need our support and help, not our rejection or judgement. People struggling with addiction are more than addicts and are not less human than you are.

Article Submitted on behalf of and

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