Stigma surrounds many health conditions – from diabetes to lung cancer to mental illness. Through education campaigns, some of the stigma in the health field has been reduced – opening the doors for earlier diagnosis, more treatment research and higher quality care. However, little progress has been made in reducing the stigma around addiction, or substance use disorder (SUD).
Unfortunately, people with SUD continue to be blamed for their disorder instead of having it recognized for what it is – a chronic and complex brain disorder. The public, justice system and even many healthcare providers see it as a moral flaw that should be punished instead of treated.
Stigma Around Addiction in the Healthcare Field
The stigma around addiction among healthcare providers can lead to substandard care, delayed diagnosis and, ultimately, secondary health conditions in some cases. With people showing signs of intoxication, use or withdrawal being sent away from emergency rooms or denied medication they need for fear of abuse the stigma in the workplace is evident. A study on primary care physicians’ perspectives showed that most surveyed were unwilling to work with or even have marry into their family someone with an addiction to prescription medication. It also showed that a majority believe that individuals with an addiction are dangerous.
Another study on emergency physicians’ perspectives towards patients with SUD found that the majority showed a lower regard for patients with SUD.
The Dangers of Stigma Around Addiction
Applying stigma to those battling SUD can be dangerous – as evident in the previous statements in relation to healthcare providers. But as the general public mirrors the sentiments of the healthcare field when it comes to addiction, the stigma can strip people with SUD of their humanity and will to get help. The shame put on addiction can be discouraging and dangerous – telling them that THEY are the mistake and they are unable to change their life for the better. How awful of a feeling it must be to experience that sort of shame – to live with no hope for a better future without substance use?
Addressing the Stigma Around Addiction
No longer should addiction be weaponized and used against those with this complex brain disorder, fueling the overall crisis of addiction in America. No, as the frontline workers, healthcare professionals must do better when it comes to addressing the stigma around addiction. By addressing our own mindset, and holding our peers accountable for examining their own bias as well, we take the first step towards dismantling society’s stigma placed on addiction.
At Wellbridge, we believe that addressing and reducing the stigma surrounding addiction works in synergy with research. By reducing the stigma surrounding addiction, we can further research funding and efforts and bridge the proverbial gap between research and clinical treatment. And by furthering research, we can continue to provide education to both healthcare providers and the public to continue reducing addiction stigma.
It is time that we, as the healthcare industry puts value back on the lives of those with SUD, and those in recovery. It is the only way to advance the treatment and care provided within our facilities.