NIDA for Teens: The Science Behind Drug Abuse
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Fear of Stigma: Does It Hold You Back?

Sara Bellum

If you’re like most people, you may try to avoid revealing anything about yourself that will make people think differently or negatively about you. Basically, you’re avoiding stigma—which is being marked by shame or disgrace.

But what if you have a drug problem and want to get help?

For a long time, our society has “stigmatized” drug use and addiction, judging people with drug or alcohol problems. Fear of being judged can be dangerous if it keeps someone from getting treatment.

One way to combat the stigma associated with drug addiction is to teach people the facts. NIDA science shows that addiction is a disease, just as cancer and asthma are diseases. It’s not just that the person chooses to take drugs. In fact, an addicted person no longer chooses to take drugs—rather, their brains have been altered by drugs to the point where free will has been cruelly “hijacked,” and the desire to seek and use drugs is beyond their control. Addiction is a disease of the brain that manifests itself in compulsive behaviors. Helping people understand this sad truth may lead to more support for those battling addiction.

It’s also important to stop labeling people as one thing or another. Try to avoid saying “addicts.” This label makes it easier to dismiss people as not worthy of help or notice. It’s better to say, people with “drug use problems” or “substance use disorders.” It may be a mouthful, but this phrase makes it clear that these are people who are facing challenges. They are more than just drug addicts.

Do you avoid certain hobbies, interests, or even potential new friends because you’re afraid of what your current friends will think? What would you say to someone who needs drug abuse treatment but isn’t getting it for fear of being judged?

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