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The Stigma Surrounding Addiction

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When you think of someone struggling with an addiction, some people have a mental picture of an individual who is not well kept, along with a sunken-in face sunken in and bloodshot eyes. Some people think of someone who is either homeless or poor. Those assumptions are not reality, however. The reality is that many people from all walks of life struggle with substance use disorders.

What Does ‘Stigma’ Mean?

A stigma is defined as a mark of shame or disgrace that can impact both the person struggling and the people around them. Most people have either struggled or known someone who has struggled with a substance use disorder. So why is there a need to have this stigma against addiction?

In the field of psychology, it’s commonly agreed that substance use disorders are a type of mental health disorder.  Unfortunately, this means it’s not as easy to observe or address as a physical problem typically is, but these disorders can still be treated. In many cases, though, the stigmas that come with addiction have prevented people from wanting or seeking help, especially due to the way that others around them react to their substance use. That stigma also skews how people perceive addiction in general. These stigmas create fear and anxiety for those who are struggling with substance use disorders and their loved ones.

Substance Use Disorder

“Substance use disorder” (SUD) is the textbook term for addiction. It is the term used in psychology to help diagnose someone who may have this disorder. There is a difference between substance use and a substance use disorder. Substance use, for example, can be something like having a cup of coffee in the morning. Your brain has learned to depend on caffeine to get through the day. SUD instead involves an increasing amount of coffee to get the same energy you used to get and may impact your daily life.

Many people believe that an individual is at fault if they develop a substance use disorder, but other factors also contribute, including biology, mental health, genetics, and the environment. Because many specific environmental factors, such as chaotic homes, tumultuous family dynamics, peer influences, and community attitudes contribute to the development of substance use disorders, those factors have become interrelated with the stigma. Viewing addiction as a personal issue that is not the fault of the individual, but rather their circumstances can help break the stigma. In turn, the changing perspectives of others can also change how those that are struggling look at themselves, decreasing any fear or anxiety they may have.

Addiction as a Disease

The best way to break stigmas about addiction is to educate about what it truly is. Addiction is not a moral or criminal issue; it’s a disease that impacts millions. What makes it a disease is how it interacts with neurotransmitters in the brain. Many substances alter various neurotransmitter levels, such as serotonin, adrenaline, and dopamine. These neurotransmitters are chemical substances that travel across nerves in the body. Regular use of a substance that increases a particular neurotransmitter decreases the brain’s natural production of that neurotransmitters.

An increase in the amount of a substance used can increase tolerance as the body gets used to the substance. This level of tolerance causes an increase in the amount of a substance needed to get the same reaction. Increasing the dose, however, can lead to overdose as well as worsen the substance use disorder. These SUDs are not something that can easily be fixed, as the substance has changed how the brain functions.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal is when the brain and body struggle after the substance leaves the system. Withdrawal symptoms can become very dangerous. In many cases, these symptoms have the opposite effect of the substance. Here are some examples of substances and their associated withdrawal symptoms.

With alcohol, the withdrawal symptoms can include:

  • Anxiety or depression
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations
  • Delirium
  • Tremors
  • Heart attacks/strokes
  • Death

Benzodiazepine withdrawal can include:

  • Stomach pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Agitation
  • Panic attacks
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Depression
  • Seizures
  • Shaking

Opiates and opioids have withdrawal symptoms within 48 hours of taking them, and after 72 hours, the symptoms peak with:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Goosebumps
  • Depression
  • Drug cravings

The best way to prevent or help with withdrawal symptoms is to detox at a professional detox center. Detoxing is a safe way to go through withdrawal with the guidance of a professional. Everyone struggles with the symptoms differently, but it is essential to seek help. These withdrawal symptoms can encourage the brain to take the substance to prevent a negative effect instead of using the substance for the positive effect it once had. Withdrawal is scary and should be taken seriously.

The stigma behind addiction is something that can impact how someone with substance use disorder seeks help. It is important to be educated on how addiction affects people and what the best treatment options are. Substances impact people differently, depending on both the substance and the person. Addiction is a disease and should be treated as such. Much research has gone into addiction and the different ways that addiction manifests in different kinds of people. If you or someone you know is battling addiction and needs help, give us a call today. At The Kimberly Center in Fort Myers, Florida, we will work with each individual to provide the best care with our client-centered therapies. We help patients struggling with substance abuse and related issues to live happier and healthier lives with treatment methods focused on the individual. You can call us at (855) 452-3683 to hear more about our programs and treatments.

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