Stigma is shame. Shame causes silence. Silence hurts us all.

Stigma is shame. Shame causes silence. Silence hurts us all.

On the 19th of September members of our recovering community will walk together to raise awareness about addiction, to inspire people to talk about addiction and hopefully start to break down the stigma associated with addicts and alcoholics.

Stigma is the invisible mark that sets you apart from others, that focuses on the differences between people. We experience prejudice when others hold negative attitudes or beliefs about us because we are viewed as different. Discrimination is acting out on these ideas or beliefs.

The United Nations says that “All people shall be treated with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the human person”.   We can experience stigma because of gender, culture, sexual orientation or physical disability – and of course, addiction.

There are no statistics to demonstrate how stigma affects addicts and alcoholics but if we look at the 2015 report published by the South African Aids Council for people living with HIV, it tells us that 40% of people living with HIV express feelings of self-stigma. HIV has long been accepted as a disease that does not discriminate because of years of awareness campaigns and advocates who demonstrate their passion by getting involved.

Addiction is also a disease. It is a chronic, often relapsing brain disease that causes compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences to the addicted individual and to those around him or her.

Different types of stigma have been identified. They are external stigma; internalized stigma; anticipated stigma and “courtesy stigma”.

External stigma is when we reject, avoid, stereotype and discriminate. We view addicts as people who live on the streets, who steal and belong in jail – we forget that addiction happens to our children, partners, spouses, grand parents and friends.

Internalized stigma happens we begin to believe the negative things that people around us say or think. It’s about how we feel about ourselves. And how we struggle to accept who we are which places pressure on the process of recovery.

Anticipated stigma is the anticipation or expectation that we will be treated poorly or differently by our employers, families and friends. Fear of Judgement and discrimination.

Courtesy stigma happens when an addict experiences being poorly treated due to their association with a stigmatised individual or group. This stigma also affects family members who have experienced addiction at the hands of their loved ones.

“You are not your illness. You have an individual story to tell. You have a name, a history, a personality. Staying yourself is part of the battle.” – Julian Seifter

Why do we stigmatize addicts?

Fear, that addicts are dangerous, and that they will influence others to use or participate in drug or alcohol use.

Untrue beliefs – the belief that people will never recover and that all addicts are dangerous or unstable people who are lazy and choose to use addictively

Blame and self-blame: Addicts are viewed as weak individuals who can stop – addicts take on these beliefs and internalise them.

Why does language matter?

Treatment has come a long way from the early days when alcoholics and addicts were sometimes institutionalised for life. But there are still lots of derogatory, stigmatising terms used that we no longer even consider to be a problem.

The words we use:

Addict, Abuser, Junkie, Drunk, Alkie

Problem with these terms: a demeaning term labelling person by his/her illness. These labels imply a permanency to the condition, leaving no room for a change in status.

Preferred terminology: Person in active addiction, person with a substance misuse disorder, person experiencing an alcohol / drug problem / patient

Abuse

Problem with the term: Abuse is a clinical diagnosis, but it stigmatises by negating the fact that addictive disorders are a medical illness. It blames the illness solely on the individual, ignoring environmental and genetic factors

Preferred terminology: Misuse, harmful use, inappropriate use, hazardous use, problem use, risky use

Clean / Dirty (referring to drug test results)

Problem with the term: Stigmatising by implying filth

Preferred terminology: Negative, positive, substance free

Habit or Drug habit

Problem with the terms: Calling addictive disorders a habit denies the medical nature of the condition and implies that resolution of the problem is simply a matter of willpower

Preferred terminology: Substance misuse disorder, alcohol and drug disorder, alcohol and drug disease, active addiction

Replacement or substitution therapy

Problem with the terms: this implies that treatment medications such as buprenorphine are equal to street drugs like heroin. The term suggests a lateral move from illegal addiction to legal addiction – with this kind of treatment the dangerous addictive behaviour is stopped not replaced

Preferred terminology:   treatment, medication assisted treatment, medication

 A special feature of the walk is the protection of the anonymity of anyone who prefers not to be identified.  These people will be able to wear masks for the duration of the walk.  This is also a stark reminder of how some feel about being identified as an addict or alcoholic. 

Walk in our shoes

 A special feature of the walk is the protection of the anonymity of anyone who prefers not to be identified.  These people will be able to wear masks for the duration of the walk.  This is also a stark reminder of how some feel about being identified as an addict or alcoholic. 

 Any queries about this special day can be addressed to Elani at 083 795 3617. Or mail her elani@breaktheshame.org.za

 

Drugs Abuse