Modern theories confirmed that Substance Use Disorder is a chronic brain dysfunction. But it is still regarded as a moral issue by ordinary people.
In the fast-paced world we live in, mental health often gets pushed to the bottom of our priority list. Inadequate awareness about psychological disorders makes us neglect the vivid signs of help a person suffering from substance abuse might be showing.
The concept of viewing drug addiction as someone’s personal choice or immoral behavior by the addiction-free population perpetuates stigma.
We often fail to perceive the trauma a person battling substance addiction is going through and recourse to public shaming. There are multiple instances where we recorded people amid their overdose, and the photos and videos were released without their knowledge to humiliate them.
Humiliating a person fighting drug addiction does no good. It only pushes them to use more drugs to survive the embarrassment and stops them from seeking the help they need.
We should educate people to treat addiction as a severe health disorder, and the first step towards that is to destigmatize substance use disorder. Instead, we should be compassionate and encourage people suffering from Substance Use Disorder to seek assistance to resume a life of sobriety.
Cases of Substance Use Disorder have seen exponential growth in the past decades. Experts found that teenagers are more prone to fall prey to drug abuse.
The main reason for that is their curiosity towards new experiences and peer pressure. Even negligence towards mental health disorders by society also plays a vital role in pushing young people toward drug abuse. Let’s look at some stats about the prevalence of drug addiction.
In 2016, the National Survey of Drug Use and Health mentioned that about 20 million people reported requiring treatment for substance abuse.
In 2017, another survey demonstrated that about 8.5 million people in America alone suffer from mental disorders and substance use disorders or co-occurring disorders. Another clinical study inferred that genetics accounts for about 40-60% of an individual’s risk of addiction.
The numbers and facts show that we are in dire need to address substance use disorder as a crucial health issue without stigmatizing it and pave a safe way for people suffering from this disorder to seek recovery.
For instance, the inpatient alcohol rehab and Substance abuse rehab facilities in Baton Rouge help treat people battling drug and alcohol addiction and guide them towards sobriety.
How Does Public Shaming Affect Drug Addicts?
Drug addiction can make people do unimaginable things. People suffering from substance use disorder often get incarcerated for illegal activities they did while intoxicated. But viewing them as criminals who require stern action for their reformation usually has the opposite effect.
A 2010 published survey by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse indicated that 65% of the 2.3 million people confined in the US were victims of substance use disorder. The survey also stated that only 11% of the inmates with drug dependency received treatment.
Addiction is a compulsive behavior that seldom conforms to the reward and punishment system. Stigmatizing substance abuse aggravates not only the condition but also endangers the patients and their loved ones.
It negatively impacts the patient’s self-esteem, relationships, and also their career.
People often use derogatory terms like “junkie,” ” crackhead,” or “drunk” to shame patients with substance use disorder.
Research shows that labeling patients with degrading words impacts their mental health and suppresses their willingness to attend treatment and access healthcare.
People fail to acknowledge that addiction has nothing to do with one’s morality. Constant public humiliation and stigmatizing substance abuse victims lead to prejudice, neglect, rejection, and social discrimination against them.
As a result, patients with such a disorder experience chronic stress, lose touch with the community, and are often forced into isolation.
A few surveys show that even healthcare providers also carry a stigma against substance use patients. It discourages people from seeking treatment or even talks about their problems who were otherwise willing to recover from drug dependency.
Shaming drug addicts by publicly releasing their photos and videos of overdosing is not likely to force them into quitting. The embarrassment fueled by these ruthless actions is usually hard to cope with for someone already battling chronic brain dysfunction.
Carrie Wilkens, the clinical director and co-founder of the Centre of Motivation and Change, says, “Research shows that public shaming and addiction are a potentially lethal combination.”
When humiliation becomes hard to endure, people with substance use disorder often fall prey to depression.
They feel that they are not worth saving and do not deserve to be loved and respected. These feelings are strong enough to seed suicidal thoughts in their mind.
Studies show that public shaming can drive people to use more substances, thereby increasing the risk of death due to overdose.
In October 2016, Erica Hurt overdosed on heroin outside a store in Indiana. Someone from the store informed the police, who saved her life.
However, one of the responding officers clicked a photo of her in that condition. The photograph went viral sometime later.
Though Erica was utterly humiliated by this action, she says that the photo made her understand that she has hit rock bottom. She acknowledges the photo as her ” wake-up call,” which helped her focus on recovery and sobriety.
But not everyone is as resilient as Erica is. People stuck in the cycle of drug abuse often find themselves unable to do anything to pull themselves out. The only way to help them is to offer compassionate support free from stigma.
These are the ways by which we can reduce stigma and enable patients with drug dependency to access the needed help:
- Avoiding demeaning names and labels.
- Building a safe place where they will be listened to without judgment.
- Offering empathy and kindness.
- Encouraging them to seek medical assistance.
- Eliminating bias and discrimination in the workplace.
- Treating them with equal dignity and respect.
Criminalizing and shaming patients with substance use disorder mostly have negative consequences. The only way to fight back against substance misuse stigma is to educate people about its effects on the patients suffering from the condition.
Instead of being blunt and insensitive, we need to build a non-judgemental and compassionate society for patients suffering from drug addiction. We must encourage them to seek medical assistance and guide them towards a healthy life.