For people who are struggling with a substance use disorder, one of the biggest barriers to getting the treatment and support they need is the stigma associated with addiction.
According to a 2016 report from the Surgeon General, nearly 21.2 million Americans have a substance use disorder, but only 10% are receiving treatment for it.1 In addition, more than 40% of people with a substance use disorder also have a mental health condition, but less than half (48%) are receiving treatment for either.2
Many people who could benefit from treatment and other resources do not utilize them because of the shame and blame associated with addiction. However, it’s important to understand that addiction is not a choice, a sign of weakness, or a moral failing; it is a disease that requires treatment. Unfortunately, the shame and stigma associated with addiction often prevents people from getting the help and resources they need to recover.
As with other diseases that are treatable and often preventable, addiction disrupts the normal functioning of an organ (in this case, the brain) and causes serious harm. According to brain imaging studies of people with addiction, this serious harm includes physical changes to the brain in areas that are important when it comes to judgment, decision-making, learning and memory, and controlling behavior.3 These changes make it incredibly hard for someone to stop using an addictive substance, even when they want to.
Just like other diseases and disorders, the likelihood of developing an addiction is different for each person. No single factor determines if you will develop an addiction; however, the more risk factors you have, the greater the chance that use of an addictive substance may lead to misuse and addiction. These risk factors can be environmental (such as growing up in a high-stress environment) or biological (like your genetics).
At SOLVD Health, we recently joined SAFE Project’s national movement to combat stigma by signing the No Shame Pledge, because there’s No Shame in getting help for addiction and mental health. We invite you to join us in combating the negative public perception and supporting others in speaking up about their own disorders.
The No Shame Pledge
- I understand that addiction is a disease, and I pledge to eliminate the stigma for individuals, family members, and friends experiencing it.
- I commit to learning more about the disease of addiction and to changing the conversation surrounding it. I support those facing these challenges and want to provide them with a shame-free environment to overcome them.
- I will learn more about factors that contribute to addictive behavior – such as mental health challenges and trauma – and encourage individuals to seek the help and treatment needed to address them.
- For individuals in recovery, I pledge to support them in their recovery journey by providing supports, not barriers, as they continue their path of leading a self-directed, safe, productive, and successful life.
Together, we can help spread awareness of and shine a light on stigma to save lives. To learn more about SAFE Project and take the No Shame Pledge, visit https://www.safeproject.us/noshame-mental-health-addiction/
1Murthy VH. Facing Addiction in the United States: The Surgeon General’s Report of Alcohol, Drugs, and Health. JAMA. 2017;317(2):133–134. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.18215
2Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2016). Results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed tables. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
3Fowler JS, Volkow ND, Kassed CA, Chang L. Imaging the addicted human brain. Sci Pract Perspect 3(2):4-16, 2007.