Addiction: Not A Character Flaw

Why treating those dealing with addiction by stigmatizing them is much more harmful than good.

One of the worst health crisis situations in the US today is substance abuse and addiction.

Whether it be to legal or illegal substances like cocaine, America faces increasing challenges not only in the medical treatment of addiction (with the exception of female addiction treatment near South Bay, LA) but in the social aspects in which addicts are stigmatized. Part of the difficulty in dealing with both the medical difficulties and social stigma is that the two compound each other, making it more and more difficult for patients to actually receive treatment and live healthier lives. This is one of the greater tragedies in the US today, as so many people are either suffering in secret or are publicly discarded because of their condition.

Medical advancements and genetic research into addiction disorders have shown that genetic predisposition to addiction plays a major role in the development of addictive behaviors. Similarly, studies have shown that people who suffered through unhealthy or violent upbringings and suffer from various forms of mental illnesses are much more likely to develop a substance abuse problem. While not excusing all behaviors of a person with an addiction pathology, it is important to remember that there are many, many elements of addiction that are outside of that person’s control. However, addiction is overwhelmingly treated as a character flaw and not a medical condition. This is true of legal and illegal substances, and it is a very dangerous attitude for the public to have.

Pop Quiz:
What kills more women each year: breast cancer or lung cancer?

While we all know which one we hear about and see more in advertisements, it’s actually lung cancer. Breast cancer has a massive public awareness campaign, and deservedly so. But why don’t we have that same socially conscious drive for lung cancer patients?

It’s because lung cancer is so heavily associated with nicotine addiction from tobacco use that a lung cancer diagnosis is sort of seen as a mark of shame. This goes back to the toxic idea that addiction is simply a bad choice that someone knowingly made. Yes, at this point, everyone knows that smoking causes lung cancer and isn’t good for you, but that doesn’t make a physical dependence on smoking any less difficult to deal with.

People often develop substance addiction as a coping method for dealing with stress or discontent in their life, including social anxiety or phobias. These people are more in need than most of a support system in their lives to be there for them. But by casting out those we see as having a “self control problem”, we may exacerbate their problem actual problem.




In practice, showing “tough love” for an addict by removing them from any sense of a support system they may have is more likely to worsen the underlying issues that led to the substance abuse than solve those issue. While people shouldn’t be expected to tolerate all of the clearly unacceptable behavior related to drug abuse, the focus needs to be put specifically on how to help the person get professional medical help instead of further berating the person for their behavior.

The social implications are a harmful aspect, but the legal ramifications make the situation worse in a lot of ways. It’s no secret that the War on Drugs has been a disaster on many levels, from disproportionate targeting of poor and minority communities to the feeding of the prison industrial complex, but it has been a public health nightmare as well. Fear of being arrested has forced many people to not only keep their problem secret but to avoid treatment for it as well.

This has contributed in no small part to drug overdoses, but also to a number of diseases that can be spread by the unsafe methods of drug use in uncontrolled settings. For instance, how many lives would have been saved by an open, effective, stigma free access to treatment for heroin addiction? HIV and hepatitis rates would have been significantly lower, and the number of people who have overdosed would be cut substantially.

The US has developed a nasty habit of jailing some those most in need of psychiatric care, and medical care for these specialized patients is sub-par to say the least. We cannot reasonably expect a person who acknowledges that they have a problem to come forward if the default reaction to this particular problem is removal from family and friends and possible criminal charges.

Progress is being made all the time in medical research. More effective treatments for dealing with addiction are always in development, ranging from nicotine gum to medication to wean someone off painkillers to methadone. But finding a better medication to give a patient doesn’t help anyone if the sick person doesn’t seek treatment because they’re too afraid to admit to anyone that they are sick. If we are going to deal with addiction as a people, we have to show a little more compassion and deal with our own attitudes about it first.

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