What is the Stigma of Heroin Addiction?

The stigma of heroin addiction simply put, means the negative thoughts and impressions people have about heroin addiction. No one would suggest there is anything good about being addicted to heroin. But the fact is that good people do develop opioid addiction and that includes heroin. Heroin addiction is bad. People with heroin addiction are not. That’s the difference and it’s an important idea we really need to work on getting out into our society. The disease model of addiction went a long way towards helping the image of alcohol addicts back in the 1950s when Alcoholics Anonymous really started to become famous across the country. For the first time, people began to understand that alcoholism was bad, but alcoholics weren’t. They were people who were suffering from a disease. No one would shame a diabetic for his or her condition, right?

Taking Responsibility for Opioid Addiction

While no one would shame a diabetic for their diabetes, it would be fair for them to hold that person accountable for managing their condition. You cannot help having diabetes, but you can be responsible about taking your medication and checking your blood sugar. The same applies to the stigma of heroin addiction. Anyone who uses heroin or any other opioid for a period of time will become physically dependent (addicted) to it. There are no exceptions. The question is what are you going to do about it? Like the person with diabetes, you are powerless over your condition by yourself. You need some outside help to manage it. That is likely to come in the form of medication and behavior modification and relying upon other people for support to a certain extent. Especially in the beginning. For the diabetic, that may mean medicines like metformin or insulin and a change in diet and exercise habits. If the diabetic does not take responsibility for their condition, they risk serious health consequences and even death. The same is true for the person living with the stigma of heroin addiction.

Taking responsibility for opioid addiction could include steps like:
  • Becoming honest about your problem and asking for the help you need
  • Getting a medical detox which might include medications like buprenorphine (Suboxone)
  • Learning more about your condition, asking for and receiving professional support
  • Entering partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient  treatment to begin recovery

How Do We Reduce the Stigma of Heroin Addiction?

We need to reduce the stigma of heroin addiction. Not only because it makes people feel bad about themselves. But because it’s actually costing lives. The truth is that an untold number of people suffering from heroin dependence or other forms of opioid addiction don’t ask for help because they fear judgement. As long as that is the case, then we as a society are falling short of our duty to help our fellow man and woman. It’s not right. So, we all need to work together to reduce the stigma of heroin addiction. There are a few ways we can accomplish that. One is to change the way we talk about addiction in general.

Addiction is a Disease

We must emphasize that addiction is a disease, not a moral failing. Another way to reduce the stigma of heroin dependence is simply to get the truth out there. All kinds of people live with heroin dependence these days. Moms and dads. Sons and daughters. Grandparents. A lot of people begin with a dependence on legally acquired opioid pain medications. The crackdown on opioid prescriptions has had an unintended side effect of driving more people to the black market where they end up buying fake tablets made with fentanyl and, yes, heroin. Focusing on the disease model of addiction, which is accepted by the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association and reminding people that people dependent on heroin are like everyone else will go a long way.

Things to Remember

Here are some things to bear in mind when working to reduce the stigma of heroin and opioid dependence:

  • Anyone can become addicted to opioids and anyone who uses them long enough, will.
  • Addiction is a disease, not a “moral failing”. Being addicted doesn’t mean you are bad person.
  • People with addiction to heroin look like your parents, children, your friends and neighbors.
  • Changing the way we talk about addiction is the key to reducing the stigma of heroin addiction.

Getting Help for Opioid Addiction

If you or someone you love is wrestling with heroin dependence or opioid addiction, Midwood Addiction Treatment can help. Give us a call at (704) 741-0771 and we will guide you through the process of getting help, step by step.

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