• Addiction & recovery

How to Reduce the Guilt, Shame, and Stigma of Addiction

Nzinga Harrison

July 20, 2020


Despite substance use disorders being declared a public health crisis in the United States, harmful stereotypes continue to persist and negatively impact people with addiction. As a result of stigma, many people hide their substance use because they fear social rejection or criminal punishment. These feelings of guilt and shame only allow addiction to continue and for some people, it may even intensify their substance use.

For some people, the lack of social understanding and support may cause them to avoid seeking treatment because they feel that getting treatment would negatively impact their jobs or other peoples’ opinions of them. Stigma creates barriers to recovery, which only allows the cycle of addiction to carry on and worsen.

Eliminating stigma is one of the most important steps in supporting people with addiction. As individuals, there are small but meaningful actions that can make a big difference. You can help break the stigma surrounding substance use disorders by:

  • Recognizing that addiction is a medical condition

    • Due to ongoing social stigma, addiction is often viewed as a moral failing that results from a person’s bad choices or lack of willpower.

    • In reality, medical research has proven that addiction is a complex brain illness that can affect any person, regardless of their character, strength, or lifestyle.

    • Learn more about the causes of addiction and how it impacts peoples’ lives.

  • Communicating with compassion and respect

    • Changing your word choice to neutral and non-judgmental terms is helpful because it removes negative associations that come with certain words.

    • Let individuals with substance use disorders choose how they are described and respect their choice.

    • Using person-first language to talk about addiction and substance use reflects that a person has a problem, rather than blaming the individual as the reason for the problem. The National Institute on Drug Abuse recommends these terms:

      • Instead of saying “addict” or “junkie,” say “person with substance use disorder.”

      • Instead of saying “alcoholic” or “drunk,” say “person with alcohol use disorder.”

      • Instead of saying “drug abuse,” say “drug misuse” or “harmful use.”

      • Instead of saying “alcohol abuse,” say “unhealthy alcohol use” or “harmful alcohol use.”

  • Having open conversations about addiction with loved ones, friends, and your community

    • Stigma will persist if we don’t openly discuss addiction and substance use. Talking about addiction as a medical condition helps to humanize it and remove negative connotations from the general public opinion.

By pushing addiction out of the shadows and into compassionate conversations, more people with substance or alcohol use disorders may feel comfortable seeking treatment and starting their recovery journey.

If you need help with your substance use disorder, we are here to help you build your confidence and momentum towards the future you want. We provide treatment services for adults with alcohol, opioid, and other substance use disorders. We are currently located in Louisiana, Massachusetts, North Carolina, New Jersey, Ohio, Texas, and Washington.

Eleanor Health

Recovery for life.

Our mission at Eleanor Health is to help people affected by addiction live amazing lives. We deliver whole-person, comprehensive care and are passionate about transforming the quality, delivery, and accessibility of addiction & mental health treatment. Our actions are rooted in respect for each member's values, culture, and life experiences, and our commitment to their wellbeing is unwavering and without judgement.

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