Addiction Stereotyping and Why It Can Be Harmful

Despite the fact that addiction affects millions of people around the world, there is still much stigma attached to this illness; many have their own stereotypes of what an addict is. Those with no experience of addiction have an opinion that is brought to mind when they hear the word ‘addiction’, and in most cases, this is entirely different to the reality.

Negative Assumptions

People who have never had to deal with addiction of any kind may have developed this opinion from things they have seen on television or in the movies. It may be that they have only ever heard bad stories in the press about crimes committed by people affected by addiction. And, while addiction can cause people to act in a manner they would not have considered before they were ill, not every addict is a bad person.

There are many negative assumptions made about individuals who are affected by addiction; many believe them all to be unemployed, homeless, school dropouts, criminals, or prostitutes. They think that addicts all inject drugs down dark alleyways or sit in public parks drinking cheap alcohol from brown paper bags. It is these stereotypes that prevent many addicts from reaching out for the help they need to overcome their illnesses.

The Reality of Addiction

In reality, addicts are just like everyone else. It is possible to become addicted to almost anything. Addiction can be classed as a pattern of behaviour that becomes obsessive and causes harm to a person’s life. Therefore, it is possible to not only become addicted to alcohol and drugs but also to things such as sex, shopping, gambling, gaming, social media, and food.

Some addictions can be classed as secret addictions, so it is impossible for others to tell if a person is affected by their outward appearance. Addictions to things like gambling and pornography rarely cause any noticeable physical symptoms, so most people would be unaware that their colleague or friend was addicted unless this individual was displaying distinct behavioural symptoms.

High Functioning Addicts

While addiction to substances such as illegal drugs, prescription medication and alcohol will eventually take their toll on the body, it may not be noticeable to others when it’s in the early stages. Those who manage to carry on with their daily lives while struggling with addictions to substances are known as high functioning addicts.

These individuals appear to have everything; good jobs, loving family, nice home and plenty of money. Nevertheless, they could be dealing with a devastating addiction behind closed doors. Some high functioning addicts do not even realise themselves that they have an addiction because they too have their own stereotypical image of what an addict is. In their minds, they do not fit the profile because they are still providing for their families and do not drink as soon as they get up.

Why Stereotyping Addicts Can Be Harmful

With so much negativity surrounding addiction, it is no huge surprise to hear that many people who are affected cannot face up to the reality of their situation. Recognising addiction in themselves can be very difficult when they do not see themselves as fitting in with the image they have in their head.

Shame and embarrassment can also prevent people from asking for help, as they are worried and afraid of what others will think of them.

Although many are much more tolerant to addiction than they used to be, and that addiction is now recognised as an illness, there is still much stigma attached to it. It is important that people are provided with more education about the dangers of stereotyping this illness so that more individuals can access the treatment they need to get better.