Living with personal shame is like walking around with a perpetual yoke around your neck. It’s a constant feeling of oppression, weighing on your mind and exhausting your mental and physical being.
For an addict struggling with their addiction, the personal shame and anguish associated with their substance use disorder is that yoke, that weight of guilt and indignity constantly impacting their day and affecting every decision they make.
The thing about the shame of addiction is that it never eases up.
It’s present in every social interaction and conversation your loved one engages in. It causes them to avoid going to certain places and talking to certain people because of the looks they receive and way they are treated.
This is not to excuse their maladaptive behaviors or addictive impulses, but like any other disease, the symptoms and consequences of the disorder cannot simply be ignored or dismissed.
Do you believe your loved one made the conscious decision to derail their life goals and ambitions so that they could pursue an existence consumed by their addiction and mental instability?
Do you believe they enjoy being controlled by their substance use disorder, forgoing healthy social interactions and personal achievement in exchange for toxic relationships and destitution?
It is archaic to think that someone suffering with a major depressive disorder of generalized anxiety disorder can simply “shake it off” and “get over it.” You may wonder why would someone believe that your loved one could simply “get over it” and stop doing drugs?
Unfortunately – as you have seen first-hand – it is not that easy to overcome a disease, which is why your loved one needs as much social support and love as possible in order to overcome their addiction.
For many people suffering with substance addiction and mental illness, the stigma associated with their disorder drives them to isolation and solitude. While their interactions with negative peers may persist, this is typically only to maintain their addiction which eases their physical suffering and excessive emotionality.
This level of self-medicating allows them to feel some sense of personal control – albeit a terrible form.
You see, for most people who have never experienced a substance addiction, or dealt with a loved one suffering with a substance use disorder, they see the issue as a self-control problem and not a diagnosable disease problem. They believe the addict should simply stop using and get help, and if they don’t, then the consequences of their addiction is their own fault.
While a level of personal responsibility does exist within all addicts struggling with their addiction, the impact of their disease is as real as cancer or schizophrenia. You cannot just stop having cancer or hope schizophrenia will go away – and a diagnosed substance use disorder is the same thing.
That is why federal legislation has been passed to protect those suffering from substance addiction, ensuring they get the same insurance coverage and personal care as any other diagnosed disease.
Making the effort to address the stigma associated with your loved one’s substance addiction and mental health issues is not overly complicated. Taking the time to establish an open line of communication with your loved one to fully understand their perspective and how their addiction and mental illness impacts their daily life is an ideal place to start.
From there, you can try implementing some additional techniques in order to continue fostering an empathetic dialogue and supportive social environment.
Working with your loved one to understand that addiction and mental illness is not an isolated incident allows them to normalize their experiences and increase their comfortability with their disease.
They should feel as if they can discuss any and all issues with you, so whispering behind closed doors about their addiction and mental health issues should be avoided at all costs.
While it is easy to show support toward a loved one, displaying that same encouragement toward strangers suffering with the same or similar issues is not as simplistic.
By actively avoiding derogatory labels, you can display to your loved one and everyone else around you that you are breaking the stigma. Avoiding these labels reinforces the fact that the person is not defined by their disorder and humanizes the disease they are struggling to overcome.
Continue to research the disease your loved one is living with in order to not only understand their disorder, but also how it impacts their daily existence.
Taking the time to recognize all of the influencing factors associated with their substance addiction and mental illness increases your fundamental knowledge of the disorders and enables you to pass that knowledge onto others around you who are not as informed.
Sometimes, making the effort to change yourself is the most effective way to enact change within those around you. It is no secret that the stigma associated with substance addiction and mental illness has permeated our society for decades.
We have finally entered a time where information and knowledge are working to improve people’s understanding of addiction and mental illness, but we still have progress to make.
Taking the time to educate yourself and support your addicted loved one unconditionally can display to others how to break free of their own misconceptions and greatly aid in your personal method of coping with the stigma of addiction.
The stigma of addiction can often be just as harmful as the addiction itself, in its own ways. Instead of allowing it to push you and your addicted loved one deeper into a state of shame, depression, and substance abuse, let’s talk about how a sober tomorrow is possible and how a stigma – no matter how strong and hurtful – holds no control over you, your loved one, or your family.
You can help your loved one can bounce back stronger than ever with the right support and co-occurring treatment.
Learn about our gender-specific, faith-based addiction treatment programs, or contact us for a free and confidential assessment. We are available 24/7.