Most people do not realise that addiction is classed as an illness of the brain, so in that respect, it is just like any other illness, including diabetes and even cancer. It does not matter what age a person is, what their gender or race is, or how much money he or she has; they can still be affected by addiction. However, unlike illnesses such as diabetes or cancer, addiction continues to carry with it a stigma that often prevents those who are affected from talking about it and sometimes even reaching out for help.
Negative stereotyping of those who are affected by addiction is something that can cause a lot of heartache and stress for the those with the illness as well as their family members. It is often difficult to overcome this stigma and, sadly, it can be imposed by communities, societies and even family and friends. Those affected by addiction are often discriminated against and judged just for having an illness over which they have no control.
Typical Addiction Stereotypes
Most people have an idea in their head of what an addict looks like. They believe that those affected by alcoholism, for example, will all share similar characteristics and traits and that these individuals all act in a similar manner. It is not uncommon for most to believe that alcoholics spend most of their days drinking and are rarely sober. They also believe that alcoholics are all aggressive or violent and that they drink alcohol as soon as they wake up in the mornings. The stereotypical alcoholic will also be unemployed, be estranged from their loved ones, and will probably live on the streets.
Drug addicts do not escape this negative stereotyping either. In fact, many people are more judgemental of those who are addicted to drugs such as heroin or cocaine, often viewing them as the dregs of society. They believe these addicts are all criminals that steal from their loved ones and strangers. They also believe that the addicted individuals spend all of their days down alleyways injecting the drugs they crave.
Is it any wonder so many people affected by addiction fail to reach out for the help they need? Faced with the possibility of discrimination and judgement from others, it is often much easier for addicts to deny that a problem exists.
Even though most people believe that those affected by addiction are weak or have no morals, the truth is that many of the individuals affected by these illnesses are just like them. High-functioning addicts can hold down a job, have nice homes, have loving families and, to the outside world, it would be impossible to tell that these persons are struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol.
Most of those with addiction do not actually fit the stereotypical profile of a drug addict or alcoholic. Some alcoholics do not drink alcohol every day and only ever drink when they get home from work in the evenings. Others never get violent or aggressive, and many of them are well-respected individuals who take pride in their appearance.
Danger of Stigmatising Addiction
Most people make negative assumptions about those with addiction because of things they have seen or heard on TV or in movies. In many instances, the stories they read about those affected by addiction will be horror stories. It is true that some individuals do have some of the characteristics or traits of the stereotypical addict, but most do not.
Stigmatising this illness prevents those affected from speaking out and asking for help. The trouble with addiction is that it is a progressive illness that will continue to get worse without treatment. If those affected are afraid of the way others will react, then they are likely to continue with their destructive behaviour, which will negatively affect their own lives, the lives of the people they love, and the wider community.