9.15.22 – Eliminating the Stigma Associated with Substance Misuse

Hi, I’m Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman, the Health Officer for Anne Arundel County. Welcome to our Weekly Health Update. September is National Recovery Month. It’s a time to celebrate individuals in recovery from substance abuse and offer hope to those who are struggling with it. Part of that is eliminating the stigma that can be associated with substance misuse.

 

What is stigma?

Stigma refers to false negative beliefs that are widespread about a topic or a group of people. Unfortunately, stigma surrounding recovery is still common, but it is getting better.

 

Where does stigma come from?

Stigma towards people with a substance use disorder comes from outdated or inaccurate beliefs that addiction is a moral failing or a weakness. We now know that substance use disorder is a chronic, treatable disease from which people can recover and continue to lead healthy lives.

 

How is stigma harmful?

Feeling stigmatized can reduce the willingness of individuals with substance use disorders to seek treatment. Stigma can:

  • Make people in need afraid to ask for help for fear of being judged
  • Decrease self-esteem
  • Create feelings of failure 
  • Lead to symptoms of depression
  • Promote withdrawal from social situations due to fear of judgment

Stigma can also negatively impact family members of people with substance use disorders. They may stay silent instead of seeking out the support they need as well.

 

How Can Stigma Be Overcome?

There are a number of ways that you can help break the stigma around addiction.

  • Provide accurate information. You can help to change public perception. 
  • Offer compassion instead of judgment. Small acts of kindness can have a ripple effect when it comes to breaking stigma. 
  • Reach out to the loved ones of people with substance use disorders.
  • Use nonjudgmental language. For example, when referring to a person who has a substance abuse disorder, terms like “drug abuser” or “addict” are stigmatizing. People are more than their condition.

Societal beliefs can’t be changed overnight, but there are a number of small steps you can take to address stigma and help create an environment that promotes recovery for those in need.

Stay safe and be kind to yourself and others. We’ll see you next week.

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