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Don't Let the Stigma of Addiction Interfere with Getting Mental Health Counseling

Mental illness and drug or alcohol addiction continue to carry a strong stigma. Sadly, the stigma of addiction can have a significant effect on those men and women who are currently struggling with addiction. The judgment that frequently accompanies addiction can contribute to preventing treatment, denial that there is a problem, and refusing to make the necessary steps to change. In fact, each day there are thousands of men and women who won't get mental health counseling or drug treatment because of the stigma addiction bears.

For many years, addiction was seen as a personal flaw. Unlike the way that it is seen today, as a chronic illness, historically addiction has been seen as a personal failure. Yet, despite the new understanding of addiction and a new way of seeing the illness, remnants of addiction as a personal flaw remain.

Interestingly, with regard to addiction and mental illness, there are various levels of stigma in our culture. For instance, a recent research study found that the stigma associated with drug addiction treatment was higher than with alcohol abuse treatment. The study explored the effects of using a particular short-term type of therapy. Researchers found that brief therapy, a form of individual solution focused therapy, had a positive influence in those addicted to alcohol. But this form of therapy did not work as well with those addicted to illicit drugs. The research team speculated that alcohol use was more socially sanctioned than the use of illicit drugs. Individuals might be more prone to admitting that they have a problem with alcohol and open to acquiring help for it than they are with illicit drugs.

Along the same lines, another study compared the stigma of addiction versus the stigma of mental illness. The results revealed that the public eye sees addiction as a weakness in character rather than a psychological illness. The stigma of an addiction carries more weight than the stigma of mental illness.

If you're experiencing addiction and you want to move through the obstacle of the stigma in order to get help, here are points to consider:

·         Connect with others who once struggled with the stigma of addiction and moved through it. It’s helpful to have others around you who have already been through the obstacles and limitations that you’re facing now. Those who have sought treatment despite the stigma can be a model and an example for others. Mental health counseling can support these efforts to move forward.

·         Remind yourself why you want to get sober. If you realize that the primary obstacle to treatment is what others will think of you, perhaps the best solution is to make a list of the reasons why you want to stop drinking or using drugs, such as for your children, career, marriage, health, etc. Making such a list can help you remember that sobriety is your choice and by deciding to get treatment, you’re making an incredibly important choice for you.

·         Make a plan for your recovery. Remember that the journey of recovery is about you and not anyone else. If the stigma of addiction continues to get in the way, shift your focus on where you are now in your recovery and where you want to be. Having a long-term plan can help plant the seed in your mind that at some point in the future you'll be sober and free of the struggles of addiction.

·         Participate in community events aimed at breaking the stigma of substance use addictions. Frequently, there are community organizations holding events that help break down the stigmas of mental illness and substance abuse. Participating in these events can bring you in the company of those who have seen past the barrier of a stigma.

The stigma of addiction and society’s judgment can keep people stuck for many years. But you don’t have to let it. If you’re struggling with an addiction and you decide to get treatment, remember that your health, safety, and happiness are more important than what the world around you might think.



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