As if the disease of addiction wasn’t enough, people struggling with drug dependence are in constant fear of being ostracised by their loved ones.
As an addictions counsellor and Al-anon member, I have seen the damage caused by the stigma of addiction from a personal and professional perspective. But why have we stigmatized a disease? Is addiction a choice?
The stigma for addiction in our society does not come from rationality, but negative feelings and false beliefs that ‘lack of will power’ and character defects are to blame for the disease. The stigma we assign to people with addictions isn’t just a barrier to treatment, it also violates their rights, and strips them of their dignity.
Going back to my question of people choosing addiction, is developing a disease like cancer a choice? Should we shame the individuals that have cancer in hopes that it will make them healthier? Or even better, make them choose between the disease and family?
These misconceptions destroy reputations, make it impossible to find employment, housing, pushing people further into their addiction. The humiliation evokes deep feelings of shame, hopelessness, and spiritual emptiness that can only be felt by someone experiencing such decree. We criminalize a disease and punish the people who live with it by judging them, not supporting their recovery, and pushing them away from social connection.
People don’t die from overdoses (though that cause may be listed on their death certificates), they die from trauma and pain, and from stigma that de-humanizes people, and the self-harm that follows. Unless we start regarding the human rights and dignity of people with substance use problems and those in recovery, instead of treating them with punishment and shame, the war on drugs will never end. After reading this column, I challenge you to view every soul as one deserving of as much love and support, as you. Let’s end the detrimental stigma by altering the way we speak about, and write about people who struggle with the disease of addiction.
Priya Sharma is an addictions counsellor currently working with Carrier Sekani Family Services.