Stereotypes About Addiction and Why They Are Dangerous

Addiction is a common disease that affects about 10% of Americans.[1] Despite addiction being so prevalent in our country, the attitude around this condition is not always supportive or understanding. Many people still believe in stereotypes and the stigma surrounding addiction. 

If you have ever heard someone say, “addiction is a choice” or “people with addiction have a moral failing,” you have heard some of the most common and outdated stereotypes there are. A lot of people still think this way even though research has proven time and time again that substance abuse is a chronic and progressive disease that affects the way a person thinks, feels, and behaves. 

Addiction stereotypes can be extremely harmful because they make people feel so ashamed about their addiction that they avoid receiving the help they need. Debunking the common stereotypes about addiction can spark a discussion on how harmful they really are and the truth behind drug and alcohol addiction.

Common Stereotypes About Addiction 

There are several common myths about addiction that are told in our society. Not only do people who have never suffered from addiction perpetuate these stereotypes, but some addicts themselves participate in the rumor mill. Stereotypes can derail society at large from truly understanding the nature of the disease of addiction and perpetuate negative stereotypes that prevent addicts from receiving the help they need.

Some of the most common stereotypes and stigmas include:

“Addiction is a Choice”

Many people still believe that addiction is a choice. People believe this because they cannot understand how someone could use drugs and alcohol in such a way that it harms them and continue to be unable to stop. In other words, people who perpetuate this stigma do not understand the science behind the disease. 

Researchers have begun labeling addiction as a disease rather than a choice due to how addiction affects the brain. As someone begins to use drugs, their brain begins to crave the drug. These cravings become impossible to ignore, causing the act of drug use to be an unconscious act rather than a conscious choice.

While initial substance use may be a choice, the disease of addiction is not one. Many people who suffer from addiction want nothing more than to stop using drugs, but can’t because of the way their brain has rewired itself to view substances as its source of reward and pleasure. 

“You Could Stop If You Really Wanted To”

Some people believe that addicts could stop using drugs if they wanted to. They think that pure willpower can beat the disease of addiction, however, this is far from the truth. 

Most people who suffer from addiction want to stop using drugs. The psychological and physical dependency that they experience makes it nearly impossible for them to quit, though. Getting sober is not just an easy choice you can make–that’s why so many people need professional treatment.

“Some Drugs Are Better Than Others”

Another common stereotype about addiction is that some drugs are better than others. To explain, some people think that being addicted to a substance like alcohol is better than being addicted to a drug like heroin. While one drug may seem scarier than the other, both cause extremely devastating effects on the mind and body.

In fact, suffering from alcoholism can turn into one of the most severe forms of substance use disorders. Quitting alcohol can even result in life-threatening withdrawal symptoms

The truth is no substance is better than another when it comes to suffering from addiction. All addictions are life-altering.

“Addiction is a Moral Failing”

Society often views or portrays people struggling with addiction as bad people. They think that they just have no morals and that’s why they abuse drugs. This is extremely harmful, as most people who suffer from addiction are actually good people who are struggling with a terrible, powerful disease. 

This stereotype causes those of us who suffer from addiction to believe that maybe we are bad people, which can lead to thoughts of shame, guilt, and worthlessness. This type of thinking can quickly lead someone to believe that they don’t deserve help, preventing them from receiving the vital care that they need to recover. 

Why Are Stereotypes About Addiction Dangerous?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Although substance use disorders are chronic and treatable medical conditions, studies show people with these disorders still face discrimination and stigma (a set of negative attitudes and stereotypes) that can impact their health and well-being in numerous ways.”[2]

When someone who suffers from a substance use disorder hears stereotypes about addiction, they may begin to believe they are true. Hearing things like “addiction is a choice” or “all drug addicts have no morals” can cause someone to believe that they do not deserve help because they are just bad people. While this is obviously not true, sometimes it is hard not to believe the stigma that is being perpetuated about you. 

Stigma can prevent addicts from getting addiction treatment, causing their addiction to become worse over time. Eventually, without treatment, addiction leads to incarceration, homelessness, medical emergencies, mental health issues, and even death. As a result, it is crucial to debunk the myths about addiction and stop perpetuating the stigma that has been attached to this condition for decades.

Finding Help for Addiction 

If you or a loved one suffer from addiction, it’s time to seek help. Addiction is a chronic and progressive disease that will only worsen over time without proper treatment, but help is available.  

Moving Mountains Recovery is a licensed substance abuse treatment provider in New Jersey. Our mission is to help you find life so full of passion that there is no room left for drugs or alcohol. Contact Moving Mountains Recovery Center today for more information on how to get started.


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