It can be devilishly difficult to overcome a stereotype regarding substance use once it has taken hold in our collective imaginations. To understand what we mean, all you need to do is pay attention to the images that jump immediately to mind when you encounter the following words:
You can probably think of many more words that could be added to that list—and odds are most of them call to mind the same sorts of mental images. You might be imagining a person so drunk they can’t stand up or a person who has lost their teeth due to meth use or someone who shoots up with needles or snorts drugs. You might find these mental images tragic or funny or some combination of the two. Your feelings about this imaginary character you have created may include the idea that they have willfully and irresponsibly ruined their lives—and perhaps the lives of those around them.
A good indicator of just how powerful this image of a person who uses drugs or drinks is that these might be the images that come to mind even if you yourself are struggling with drugs or alcohol. The prevalent image of the drug user or alcoholic is of a person who has lost control of their lives (and often their bodies) because they have made terrible choices. And because they have made terrible choices, it is easy to believe they deserve the situation in which they find themselves.
Maybe you believe that about the situation in which you have found yourself. Maybe you believe you can be defined by a stereotype—and that you deserve to be.
The Stigmas are Strong but not Insurmountable
The stigmas attached to substance use disorders are varied—and no one is immune from their negative effects.
Women, for example, are often subject to severe judgments from others when they struggle with drugs or alcohol. This may have to do with our tendency (even at this late date) to think of women as society’s caregivers. A woman who is in the grips of a substance use disorder might be characterized as a bad mother or wife. That kind of judgment can cause those around the woman in question to treat her with disdain, which is hardly helpful to the person who is struggling.
Meanwhile, men can face stigmas of their own around drug and alcohol use. For men, the issue is often less about the substance use itself and more about the need to get help to regain sobriety. Many men feel a lot of pressure to never seem weak and to always seem in control. Admitting to an issue related to drugs or alcohol can be very difficult for men who want to appear powerful and successful.
Further, no matter what gender a person might be, there are some pernicious myths about substance use disorders that can result in unfair judgments and ongoing stigmatization of individuals. For example, many people believe that if a person is of good character and has appropriate levels of willpower, religious faith, or both, they will be able to overcome a drug or drinking problem on their own. This idea can be particularly damaging as a person tries and tries to employ their willpower or faith to get sober and finds that they simply cannot. The feeling of failure can be overwhelming and worsen an already devastating situation.
How can an individual overcome these stigmas? It isn’t easy—but it is certainly possible. One of the keys, we would argue, is to remember that a substance use disorder is an incurable brain disease. While the disorder can be managed and sobriety can be maintained over time, a substance use disorder cannot be willed or prayed away. Stigmatizing those who suffer from a brain disease is akin to stigmatizing those who suffer from cancer.
All of us—those who struggle with drugs and alcohol, and those who know and love them—would do well to remember that.
French Creek Recovery Center Offers Help—Not Judgment
As we have noted, many people find it hard to seek out treatment for a substance use disorder because they are afraid of being judged by those around them. While we wish we could promise that simply won’t be the case, the unfortunate fact is that the world is full of judgmental folks.
What we can promise, however, is that you will never be judged or looked down upon at French Creek Recovery Center. At our facility in Meadville, PA, we are committed to providing personalized and compassionate care that can help you regain—and then maintain—your sobriety. Don’t let stigmas stop you from making the decision to reclaim your life. When you are ready to make a change, we are here to help.