The Stigma of Addiction

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It was a hot summer in a small town on the Cape when, as I was holding my mother’s hand, I saw a homeless woman straight ahead who looked ill and was asking for money. To this day, I cannot remember much of my childhood, yet I still can picture that woman’s face. 

I asked my mom, “Can we give her money?”

“No,” she replied. “She will use it on drugs.”

I had no idea what drugs were. I was maybe five or six. All I knew was that I felt a deep sense of dread, pain, and sadness when I looked at this woman. 

Now, as an adult, I see how the stigma against mental health and addiction harms individuals struggling with addiction. Nida (2020) states:

There must be wider recognition that susceptibility to the brain changes in addiction are substantially influenced by factors outside an individual’s control, such as genetics or the environment in which one is born and raised, and that medical care is often necessary to facilitate recovery as well as avert the worst outcomes like overdose. When people with addiction are stigmatized and rejected, especially by those within healthcare, it only contributes to the vicious cycle that entrenches their disease” (para. 9). 

If an individual goes to the doctor and is diagnosed with diabetes, they get support and options for treatment. People generally support you with your health journey. Why is it not the same for disorders of the brain?

The National Institute of Drug Abuse (2020) compares addiction to other diseases:

Addiction is a lot like other diseases, such as heart disease. Both disrupt the normal, healthy functioning of an organ in the body, both have serious harmful effects, and both are, in many cases, preventable and treatable. If left untreated, they can last a lifetime and may lead to death” (para. 2).

As more awareness is brought to addiction, its causes, and its treatments, the hope is that more individuals will educate themselves and show empathy towards this chronic disease.


NIDA. 2020, April 22. Addressing the Stigma that Surrounds Addiction. Retrieved from on 2023, January 19

NIDA. 2020, July 13. Drug Misuse and Addiction. Retrieved from on 2023, January 19

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