Stigmas Related to Opiate Addiction

Stigmas Related to Opiate Addiction

Stigmas Related to Opiate Addiction

Opiate addiction is a costly disease. It harms families, increases crime rates and lowers employee productivity. These consequences create feelings of stigma, and they don’t leave much room for feelings of compassion.

Even as addiction ravages communities, it also ravages a person’s life. The disease takes away strong decision-making abilities leaving a person with the compulsion to find and take more opiates. The behavioral aspect of the disease makes people act in destructive ways, because their brains are rewired to crave opiates above everything else. After decades of research, addiction specialists now understand many of the biological reasons behind addiction. They know the disease responds to treatment, not punishment, and addicts need psychological counseling to restore more normal brain functioning.[1]

Opiates are powerful drugs. They include prescription pain relievers like Vicodin and OxyContin as well illicit drugs like heroin. Opiate-based pain relievers help people struggling with chronic pain, but they must be used carefully to avoid addiction. A push to adequately treat chronic pain in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s made opiates widely available. As more pills flooded the American market, addiction rates began to rise. For example, 259 million prescriptions for opiates were written in 2012, enough prescriptions to give every American adult a bottle of pills.[2] Today, addiction rates in America are at epidemic levels. Around 4.3 million people age 12 or older misuse opiate medications and 435,000 people report heroin use. Making the problem worse is a trend of people addicted to prescription pills switching to heroin. Heroin use is increasing again after remaining stable for many of the past few years.[3]

The growing number of U.S. opiate addictions creates unprecedented awareness about the disease. Community leaders and politicians recognize the seriousness of the epidemic and work to offer more education and treatment for the disease.[4] Even with the added awareness, feelings of stigma and shame still keep people from seeking the help they need. Overcoming stigma takes widespread education to overcome negative feelings that became common in the early 1900s as more people worked to control drugs and alcohol.

During the 1920s, the levels of stigma associated with drug and alcohol use reached a peak. For example, opiate addiction was associated with moral and brain defects. Alcoholism also was associated with strong stigma and shame. Attitudes about alcohol addiction began slowly shifting in the 1930s with the creation of Alcoholics Anonymous. Beliefs about drug addiction began changing in the 1970s as brain researchers discovered more about how chemicals affect the brain.[5]

Misconceptions about Opiate Addiction

Today, researchers at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) define addiction as a chronic, relapsing brain disease. Just as heart disease alters the heart’s ability to function, addiction changes the brain’s structure and how it works. A person with an addiction compulsively seeks to use drugs even when he encounters negative consequences.

Both biology and environment lead to addiction. Biological factors are responsible for between 40 percent and 60 percent of a person’s chance to develop an addiction. These factors include the way a person’s environment, such as nutrition, affects gene expression and function. People with mental health disorders are more likely to be at risk for addiction than members of the general population. So, while many people who take pain relievers do so without developing an addiction, people with certain risk factors are more likely to develop the disease.[6]

The Damage that Stigmas Cause

Anyone who struggles with addiction may feel stigmatized. People who suffer from chronic pain may face judgment because they are addicted to pain relievers, or someone with a heroin addiction may be afraid of legal troubles if he admits the problem and gets treatment. Fear of stigma keeps people from getting the help they need and ignores the fact that addiction is a disease that benefits from treatment. Plus laws continue to change making it easier to get treatment and lessening the stigma associated with addiction.

Treatment for Opiate Addiction

If you suffer from opiate addiction, do not be afraid to admit that you need treatment. In spite of the many misconceptions surrounding opiate addiction, it is a serious condition that requires treatment. You deserve professional treatment that will help you achieve lifelong recovery. Call our toll-free helpline to speak with a phone counselor about your options. Our counselors are available 24 hours a day to help you get your life back on track. Please call today for instant support.


[1] National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2012). DrugFacts: Understanding Drug Abuse and Addiction. Retrieved June 2, 2016 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/understanding-drug-abuse-addiction.

[2] American Society of Addiction Medicine. (2016). Opioid Addiction 2016 Facts & Figures. Retrieved June 2, 2016 from http://www.asam.org/docs/default-source/advocacy/opioid-addiction-disease-facts-figures.pdf.

[3] Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2015). Behavioral health trends in the United States: Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Retrieved June 2, 2016 from http://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-FRR1-2014/NSDUH-FRR1-2014.pdf.

[4] White House Office of the Press Secretary. (2016). Fact Sheet: Obama Administration Announces Additional Actions to Address the Prescription Opioid Abuse and Heroin Epidemic. Retrieved June 2, 2016 from https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/03/29/fact-sheet-obama-administration-announces-additional-actions-address.

[5] Acker, Caroline J. (1993). Stigma or Legitimation? A Historical Examination of the Social Potentials of Addiction Disease Models. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs. Retrieved June 2, 2016 from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02791072.1993.10472271.

[6] National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2104). What is drug addiction? Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction. Retrieved June 2, 2016 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/drug-abuse-addiction.

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