I recently had a run-in with a person who has no idea what addiction is and what addiction does to families. I was called a junkie, and I am far from this. Sometimes I find that individuals with no family who went through addiction or themselves tend to push the word stigma around more. Stigma is when an individual discriminates against an individual or group. The bias against an individual suffering from substance abuse disorder (SUD) is accurate and sometimes much more robust than we realize. There are several inaccurate thoughts about an individual who suffers from SUD. For example, we are considered dangerous individuals who cannot manage our treatment. The other part was that these individuals were at fault for their condition. With the inaccurate beliefs floating around that addiction is a moral failing. I do not believe that individuals think that addiction is a chronic, treatable disease. Know there have been several individuals who have been known to stereotype me. For example, feeling sorry for me, fear, or pity. Furthermore, a story was already written about my life by the big guy above God. I was at a higher risk of developing this chronic disease through my story, past trauma, and addiction running in my family.
Let me say this we can reduce stigma if we change the way we think or the way we respond. Do you remember what I wrote up top? I was called a junkie. A person who is walking through recovery is far from a junkie. You might want to say there goes that addict. You could rephrase that by saying Melissa has a SUD. Another phrase heard a lot is abuse. Melissa was abusing those drugs. Instead, you could have said Melissa is misusing or using. How about the individuals who report and come back to talk to their friends? They possibly had a positive test. Instead of saying you were dirty, you could have tested positive. There are many other phrases we could change, but we also must think and process before responding. I can tell you firsthand that words matter, they are hard to hear, and we already feel bad. We must stop the stigma on drugs and individuals.
Written by: Melissa Pena