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Stigma: Mental Health & Substance Abuse

Stigma: Mental Health & Substance Abuse

The stigma surrounding mental health and substance abuse has prevented many people from getting the help they need.  When family, friends, or society have negative perceptions about mental health or drug use, their beliefs are often based on preconceptions, generalizations, or assumptions.  These preconceived, often unfounded, perceptions are hard to change.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 

“Stigma is a set of negative beliefs that a group or society holds about a topic or group of people.”

“Stigma is a major cause of discrimination and exclusion and it contributes to the abuse of human rights.”

Perceived stigma can result in avoidance, rejection, prejudice, or discrimination against a person.  As a result, it can harm a person’s self-esteem and prevent them from seeking treatment. 

How Stigma Impedes Addiction Treatment

Substance abuse and addiction are often underdiagnosed and under-treated because of stigma.  Unfortunately, many people who use drugs or have mental health issues are often flagged as “drug-seekers” when they seek medical help.  As a result, they avoid emergency rooms or clinics.  Therefore, they don’t get a proper medical assessment or referral for the treatment that they need.  In many instances, fatal overdose is the outcome.  

Public stigma and personal shame are formidable obstacles to addiction treatment.  Here are a few ways stigma interferes with a person’s ability to get the treatment they desperately need:

  • Think they must hit “rock-bottom” before they need treatment.
  • Fear losing their job if they enter a treatment program.
  • Afraid of being seen as “weak” if they enter rehab.
  • Unsure of being able to rejoin society after treatment.

Someone with co-occurring mental health issues and substance abuse often feels rejected by society.  So, they isolate themselves and try to hide their drug use to avoid stigma and shaming. Over time, their substance use and mental health disorders get worse.  

If we, as a society, can accept and treat these disorders as valid medical conditions, many lives can be saved.

Importance of Dual-Diagnosis Treatment

It’s difficult to determine which came first, the mental illness or the substance abuse issue.  In most cases, a person struggles with both disorders concurrently.  Someone with mental health problems often uses drugs as a form of self-medication and may develop an addiction to the substance.  On the other hand, a person with a prolonged substance abuse history may have mental or emotional problems due to the drug in their system.

When someone struggles with these co-occurring disorders, the best treatment option is a dual-diagnosis program.  These programs are equipped to address both the physical and mental factors to ensure the most favorable outcome.   

Cycles of Change Recovery offers a unique approach to treating co-occurring disorders.  For instance, Biosound Therapy helps patients who have mental health and substance use issues. This therapy uses vibrational patterns that relax the nervous system to relieve symptoms of stress, anger, racing thoughts, fearfulness, and more.  We also offer 12-step programs, meditation and yoga, family therapy, and psychodrama therapy as part of our comprehensive dual-diagnosis treatment.

Words Matter:  Destigmatizing Substance Abuse and Mental Health Disorders

Words are powerful tools.  They can evoke many feelings, beliefs, emotions, and fears.  As such, researchers believe the stigma surrounding substance abuse or mental health disorders can be minimized or eliminated by using different terms.  For instance, when referring to addiction or mental health the following guidelines are suggested:

Stigmatizing Language Recommended Language
Addict A person with substance use disorder
Addicted to X Has an X use disorder
Addiction Substance use disorder (SUD)
Alcoholic A person suffering from alcohol addiction
Drug abuser A person who uses drugs
Reformed addict A person in recovery
Recreational drug user Someone who uses drugs for non-medical reasons
Mentally ill, psycho, insane Has a mental health challenge
Mental health patient Is receiving mental health services
Committed suicide Died by suicide

The recommended language acknowledges the person before the condition.  It reduces the negative connotations evoked by stigmatizing language.  

Public perceptions are often swayed by words or images.  With this in mind, correcting stereotypes and misconceptions is a big step toward helping people get effective treatment.

Other ways to contribute to reducing stigma include:

  • showing respect to people who are affected by substance abuse and mental health
  • learning more about addiction and mental health
  • supporting resources for those who struggle with these disorders.

Rediscover the Joy of Being You with Cycles of Change Recovery

At Cycles of Change Recovery, we realize the complexities of addiction.  We know that addiction involves a combination of factors such as depression, PTSD, low self-esteem, anxiety, environmental influences, and more.  During your time in our facility, we will first address the physical aspect of addiction with our onsite detox program.  Then, you’ll receive the highest level of therapy to address the emotional or mental aspects.  

Contact us today at our Palmdale, California facility if you’re ready to rediscover the joy of healthy, drug-free living.  



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