Pathways Wellness

Educating Families: Overcoming the Stigma of Addiction

Educating Families: Overcoming the Stigma of Addiction
Raul Haro
May 30, 2023
The stigma of addiction is quite prevalent in our society. You may have seen how people struggling with addiction are portrayed in modern media. Often, addiction is seen as the result of a personal moral failing or as a punishment for bad decisions. Addiction and the nature of it is much more complicated than that.  […]
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Educating Families: Overcoming the Stigma of Addiction

The stigma of addiction is quite prevalent in our society. You may have seen how people struggling with addiction are portrayed in modern media. Often, addiction is seen as the result of a personal moral failing or as a punishment for bad decisions. Addiction and the nature of it is much more complicated than that. 

The result is that people are struggling with their addictions alone. They don't want to be judged or shamed for having an addiction in the first place, so they end up just never seeking help for it. When people don't get help, their life can rapidly spiral out of control, and can sometimes end in tragedy. 

This is why many mental health care facilities, like Pathways Wellness Center, offer psychoeducation to families about the nature of addiction and why there is hope for healing. Educating about this stigma helps teach people how to be more compassionate and understanding to those who are working hard to recover. This is especially important for families who have a history of addiction or have a loved one seeking treatment. 

The first step in education is to acknowledge the common myths fueling the stigma of addiction and debunk them.

Myths That Cause the Stigma of Addiction

You may have heard some of these phrases before, either spoken by a family member, a teacher, or in a piece of media:

  • “Once an addict, always an addict.”
  • “If someone just tried hard enough or had more willpower, they wouldn't have developed an addiction.”
  • “Only certain types of people develop an addiction.”
  • “Your life is good, so you can't develop an addiction.”
  • “People with addictions are bad and should be punished.”

These are not only false statements that ended up becoming common myths about addiction, but they show a fundamental problem in how many people understand addiction. The truth is that anyone from any type of background can develop an addiction. People often develop addictions as a response to a mental health disorder, trauma, or other type of pain in their lives. This is known as self-medicating, when you attempt to treat or numb a symptom by using a drug or substance without the oversight of a doctor. 

Addiction is especially prevalent in places where medical and mental health care is far out of reach. There is also the prevalence of addictive substances that anyone can access. Go to any grocery store and you can buy alcohol and tobacco products as long as you have an ID and money. For many people, it's more viable to buy a bottle of alcohol to help them cope with chronic pain than it is to find a specialist close and affordable enough to treat them. 

Rich or poor, young or old, anyone at any time could develop an addiction. Willpower has no factor in addiction, as many substances chemically change the brain. This causes someone to experience frightening and painful withdrawal symptoms if they attempt to stop. Some withdrawal symptoms can be severe enough to cause a medical emergency. It is why supervised detox is recommended for those working on recovering from addiction. In case of an emergency, there is a team of doctors waiting to help.

Talking to Your Family About the Stigma of Addiction

Regardless if you are currently struggling with an addiction or not, it's important to educate your family about it. As mentioned before, anyone can develop an addiction at any time. It just takes a triggering event. This can be avoided by promoting healthy mental health practices within yourself and your family. Sometimes this can be difficult, especially for families who don't believe in mental health care. It can be hard to discuss these topics on your own, especially if you are just one person.

However, many mental health care facilities offer psychoeducation programs. These are programs designed to educate a person or group of people about a mental health disorder or illness. The idea is to promote understanding and to teach others how to best support those they love who are struggling. Places like Pathways Wellness Center include family therapy options as part of their addiction treatment program. This is designed to not only reduce the stigma of addiction but also help them support their loved ones.

If you are interested in utilizing family therapy or other psychoeducation programs, call your local mental health care facility. They can help set you and your family up with an appointment with a qualified mental health care professional.

Changing How We View Addiction in Families

It may seem like a big task, but every major change starts with a single step. If you want your family to become more positive and supportive, you will have to nudge them in the right direction. One way to do this is to shut down any instance of someone attempting to shame people for getting addiction help. People getting help for their addiction are brave and deserve to be treated with compassion. 

If someone in your family tries to reinforce the stigma of addiction, correct them by stating that anyone can develop an addiction. When someone tries to say that a loved one with an addiction has failed morally, remind them that they are not bad and that you care about them. 

When you change how you speak about addiction, you influence everyone around you. By using gentle reinforcement, you can help others become more understanding and kind. For more tips, call your local mental health care facility. Together, we can reduce the stigma of addiction, and encourage more people who are struggling to seek help.

The stigma of addiction is harmful because it changes our perception of how people should be cared for. It also prevents people from seeking treatment. When those struggling with addiction don't seek treatment, it can sometimes end in tragedy. Here at Pathways Wellness Center in Azusa and Glendora, California, we want those struggling with their addiction to know that they are not bad people. Everyone deserves compassion and understanding and to find hope in their lives. We offer an extensive residential treatment and supervised detox program to help individuals recover from addiction and find joy in their lives again. If you or a loved one is struggling, call (888) 771-0966 today.

About the Author

Raul Haro
Raul Haro is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with sixteen years of experience working in both the inpatient and outpatient setting. As an LMFT, He has trained in trauma focused cognitive behavioral therapy and EMDR. Raul has furthered his training in the drug and alcohol field by obtaining a Masters in Drug and Alcohol Counseling through CCAPP. Raul has a background in nursing where he has been an LVN for over 25 years. Recently, he has returned to school to complete a degree in Registered Nursing. Future plans are for Raul are to eventually complete a degree as a Nurse Practitioner combining his therapy practice with his nursing skills.

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