5 Ways To Combat Substance Use Stigma

As people become more aware of how deeply substance use disorder or SUDs has impacted the United States, the average person who wants to help can feel like they have no idea where to start. Aside from donating to organizations that help educate and inform, it can be difficult to know what to do to help erase the stigma surrounding substance abuse. This feeling can be exacerbated especially when a friend or someone in your own family suffers from using or misusing controlled substances. You don’t want to trigger them or accidentally make them feel even more stigmatized. In many cases, you might feel as if you are walking on eggshells. If you are feeling stuck or helpless on how to combat the stigma that people suffering from substance use disorder face every day, read on for a few tips on how to help erase this stigma. 

1. Change Your Language

Just like how it’s appropriate to monitor and change our language over time as things that we might not have previously realized are offensive come to light, it’s important to change your language and remove certain common phrases that stigmatize people with SUDs. For instance, saying that you are “addicted” to something you like, such as a new show or a particular brand of ice cream, trivializes the experience that people with substance abuse disorders face every day. Additionally, calling your goofy friend a “crackhead” or your friend who likes to drink an “alcoholic” are all terms that also trivialize this very real and often life-threatening disorder.  In changing your language you can help those around you who you may not even know are struggling with SUDs feel safer, and more comfortable in your presence.

2. Know The Proper Terminology

The stigma that people who are trying to overcome substance use disorder often face is rooted in the shame that our culture has placed on the terminology that we use to talk about dependency and misuse of substances. A loaded word like “addict” has such a negative connotation. It can be harmful to the recovery of those who are suffering from substance use disorder. Additionally, many people don’t know that these terms are outdated in the medical community. There are plenty of stigma-free alternatives that we can and should be using.  The National Institute on Drug Abuse has an excellent resource list of alternatives to many common harmful terms that we have been taught to use when talking about substance dependency.  

3. Consume Content

Isn’t it great when you can help understand a situation by sitting back and turning on the TV? Though it may sound lazy, consuming thoughtful, well-researched TV shows and movies that center on a character who is suffering from substance use disorder can help humanize this illness and reduce the stigma and judgments that we unconsciously place on people. By creating a reference point for this disorder, it is easier to relate and open a door to compassion. TV shows like Nurse Jackie and Euphoria are great portrayals of SUDs. Also, movies such as Ben is Back and A Star Is Born, helps to destigmatize those suffering with SUDs.

4. Offer Opportunities

Another symptom of stigmatization is that people who are suffering from substance use disorder feel that they face a world of doors that are closed to them because of their medical history. This lack of opportunity is very real but completely absurd. You wouldn’t offer someone fewer opportunities because one time in their past they sprained their ankle. It should be no different for this particular medical condition. Offering opportunities to people who are currently dealing with or have dealt with substance use disorder is a great way to help them feel included and reduce the stigmatization that they face in the world. If you are not in a position to offer a job, find other ways to include others. Inclusion helps many people feel less stigmatized or isolated.

5. To Talk Or Not To Talk

When trying to combat the stigma of substance abuse disorder, it is best to talk about it. Talking opens up a dialogue for those who are willing to listen and learn. Sharing the things you have learned with friends can help to educate those around you. However, keep your conversations limited to those who are not suffering from SUDs currently. If you do start a conversation with someone struggling with SUDs, try to incorporate other positive topics too. For many people who have dealth with SUDs, it was a hard time with lots of negative memories. Remember, they may not want to relive those memories. Treat the topic of SUDs with respect and caution; don’t let it become the focus. 

Combating the stigma that people who are dealing with substance use disorder face is crucial in improving our world. If you know someone who is struggling with this disorder, you need to call Fritz Clinic today. With decades of experience treating SUDs and opioid dependency, Fritz Clinic is the place to go for healing. Call us or fill out our contact form. We believe in you and we want to help you overcome your dependence once and for all.