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Our primary goal for treatment is always to help clients find freedom from drugs or alcohol and provide them with the tools they need to reach new levels of health, happiness and success in recovery.



Addiction is an insidious disease, and when you or a loved one needs help it can be hard to know where to turn. We understand. That’s why we have highly trained admissions specialists ready to walk you through a free, brief, and confidential screening.




Addiction's Shame Game: Why Won't the Stigma Go Away? - The Meadows Malibu

Addiction’s Shame Game: Why Won’t the Stigma Go Away?

Written By:

By Alanna Hilbink

We’ve made great strides in understanding addiction, the people behind addiction, and how we can help ourselves or those we love. However despite much positive change and huge leaps in scientific understanding, addiction is still bound up in stigma. Let’s explore shame, the relationship between it and mental health, and how to reduce the stigma of addiction.

What Is the Stigma of Addiction?

Stigma is a set of negative and unfair beliefs that a society or group of people have about something. All too often, that “something” is addiction, mental health, or the people living with these issues. So what is the stigma of addiction?

The US Department of Labor explains that there are three types of stigma that influence how shame may play a role in addiction: social stigma, self-stigma, and structural stigma. 

  • Social stigma is reflected in public perceptions and misconceptions. Social stigma is the stereotypes we’ve been shown in the media or the generalizations we hear others make about people with addiction. Despite these old “facts” being updated with modern science, they are still repeated over and over again. 
  • Self-stigma is often invisible, as it’s the internalization of social and public opinions. It happens when we start to believe what others say about us.
  • Structural stigma happens when laws, policies, and practices encourage or at least do not punish addiction-related discrimination.

Structural stigma happens when laws, policies, and practices encourage or at least do not punish addiction-related discrimination.

Someone struggling with addiction likely faces all three forms of stigma, and each has unique effects on your health and recovery. 

How Does Stigma Affect Addiction?

All forms of stigma influence how shame may play a role in addiction. The Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice explains that the experience of stigma is directly related to shame: “We feel shame when we are seen by another or others (whether they are present, imagined, or simply a viewpoint that has been internalized) to be flawed in some crucial way, or when some part of our core self is perceived to be inadequate, inappropriate, or immoral.” 

Stigma causes shame when we run into these opinions of “flaws” or “immorality,” and stigma causes stress and anxiety when we go through our daily lives afraid we might encounter it. Even when social stigma is not actively present, it still impacts our thoughts, emotions, and actions.

And this impact influences drug use and recovery (or lack thereof). PLoS One shares that shame makes us feel bad about ourselves, which then causes us to use drugs or alcohol, which then causes us to feel worse about ourselves — a cycle that becomes increasingly harder to break free from. 

Shame makes us feel bad about ourselves, which then causes us to use drugs or alcohol, which then causes us to feel worse about ourselves — a cycle that becomes increasingly harder to break free from. 

Because social stigma is so powerful, treatment programs like The Meadows Malibu offer the highest levels of confidentiality. This helps you protect yourself, your career, or your family if necessary. But it’s also important to consider when anonymity helps, and when it hurts. Openness allows you to be honest with yourself, to heal to the fullest, and does the most to put an end to stigma. When we speak up, we help change the message about addiction.

How Does Stigma Affect Families?

Our family and friends mean so much to our mental health and ability to find and maintain recovery. But fearing judgment, we may avoid the people whose misunderstandings or assumptions have the most power to hurt. Stigma and shame push relationships to the edge during addiction. This hurts both the person using drugs or alcohol and their loved ones by hindering their ability to know how to love, support, and communicate with someone needing recovery.

If you’re a loved one worried about a friend or family member’s drug use, The Meadows Malibu is here for you. If you are having trouble determining what is fact and what is misconception — or if you don’t know how to talk about addiction or what treatment or resources are best for your family — we’re here to guide your next conversation and help you move forward with compassion and understanding.

How Does Stigma Impact Society?

Beyond the social and internal aspects of shame, stigma has a real impact on politics and policies. The US Department of Health and Human Services shares that structural stigma limits treatment availability and insurance coverage. It uses the legal system to punish people with fines and loss of personal freedom for using drugs while doing little to support recovery. Because of stigma, people have few resources for recovery and are often pushed further into shame and drug use by the legal system. Those taking positive steps forward may find their new sobriety challenged by stressors related to finding a job, safe housing, or access to public services.

How to Reduce the Stigma of Addiction

When learning how to reduce stigma of addiction, start by asking questions. Do your thoughts reflect reality, or do they reflect a generalized opinion? Do you have all the facts, or are you making assumptions? Do you speak up when someone says something about addiction that doesn’t sound quite right? To help end stigma and therefore help reduce shame and drug use, make sure you listen, see the whole person behind the addiction, and learn how you can best help yourself or a loved one. And reach out to professional resources like The Meadows Malibu for answers to all of your questions about stigma, addiction, and recovery.