The history of stigma around addiction and its treatment is long and pervasive. Stigma permeates the public’s perceptions of people with substance use disorders, the self-perceptions of those who have the disease, and the way in which it is addressed on a structural level. Instead of offering evidence-based clinical treatments within a medical setting, addiction typically is addressed outside mainstream health care by providers who are not trained to offer the comprehensive clinical care needed by those who have this complex, chronic condition. Even worse, because of stigma, addiction frequently is criminalized and those who have it often are penalized and denied effective treatment. Stigma even surrounds treatment itself, especially medication-based treatment, which is offered to only a fraction of the people who need it and only under the weight of onerous regulations and restrictions, despite the mounds of scientific evidence attesting to its safety and effectiveness. As drug overdose deaths continue to climb, we cannot afford to wait until stigma is eradicated through widespread public acceptance to treat addiction as a disease. The government, the health care system, the criminal justice system, and employers—the systems in power—must override stigma’s influence by ensuring that addiction is addressed with compassion, by trained health care professionals, using proven clinical treatments. As addiction begins to be viewed as the treatable disease that it is, stigma will recede and we will more effectively be able to contain our nation’s addiction crisis.
The Stigma of Addiction: An Essential Guide. 2019. doi: 10.1007/978-3-030-02580-9.