People with substance use disorders and other mental health issues face greater stigma than those with other illnesses. This added burden makes it even more difficult for those struggling to come forward and seek help.
No person, or group of people, is immune to the disease of addiction. Nearly half of Americans have a family member or close friend who has had a substance use disorder (SUD), but due to a lack of understanding about the illness as well as the stigma that remains associated with it, most people don’t speak openly about these disorders. This reinforces the shame and isolation so common in the experience of SUD. Many people struggling with SUD don’t know how to assess their own use and are too afraid to ask for help until their condition has progressed dramatically.
Addressing addiction like a disease instead of a moral failing requires shifts in practice as well as understanding. We must revise outdated ways of thinking about this condition to better align with the medical discoveries about what addiction does to the brain, and how it is most effectively addressed. Addiction impacts the limbic system, which is responsible for our basic survival instincts, and the prefrontal cortex, which regulates decision-making and impulse control. Addiction hijacks these areas, making a patient believe that the primary need for survival is the drug. Because of these changes to the brain, it can be very difficult for somebody suffering from a substance use disorder to engage in treatment, no matter how much they might want to find recovery.