Get Help Now - Call 24/7 888-401-1241 100% Confidential
Who Answers?

It can be difficult to understand stigma, but when it comes to attitudes toward addiction, it’s often rather easy to spot.

Stigma can involve stereotyping, labeling, and discriminating, and many people — even subconsciously — promote this behavior when it comes to substance use disorders. Whether it’s due to the way people were raised, the way it can be perceived in popular culture, or trying to match the values of friends or family members, stigma involving substances centers on the belief that addiction is a moral failure.

We hear terms like “addict,” “junkie,” and “alcoholic” to describe a person who struggles with substance use, but all those words do is continue to perpetuate the stigma of someone who is consciously making destructive choices for their own benefit. They paint the picture of someone who has a character flaw.

Addiction, however, is not a moral weakness, but rather a chronic illness that involves significant changes in the brain. That’s what United States Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said in a November 2016 report on the addiction crisis in our country, where he called for a cultural shift in how the public views addiction.

“It is not a moral failing, or evidence of a character flaw, but a chronic disease of the brain that deserves our compassion and care,” Murthy said in the report.

The Causes of & Risk Factors for Addiction

One in 7 Americans reports struggling with a substance use disorder, and that number doesn’t include the millions who may be misusing substances but don’t have a diagnosis from a professional.

We know that addiction doesn’t care about a person’s race, gender, religion, or academic success. People who are young or old and rich or poor may be affected.

We also know that genetics play a key role in health and disease, including substance use disorders. One family study suggested that as much as half of a person’s risk for becoming addicted to nicotine, alcohol, or other drugs depends on their genetic makeup.

There are, of course, environmental risk factors beyond the biological factors of genetics. These can include:

· Aggressive behavior as a child

· Parental neglect

· Presence of drugs at home/unstable home environment

· Peer pressure

· History of trauma

· Having a family member who has a mental illness

Though addiction can affect people of any socioeconomic status, studies have shown a higher risk for certain substance use disorders among impoverished communities. A 2019 study found that across 17 states in research that spanned from 2002-2014, opioid overdoses were concentrated in more economically disadvantaged zip codes. Other studies have found poverty and homelessness to be risk factors for overdoses, particularly among veterans.

How Drug Use Affects the Brain & Overcoming Stigma?

When a person uses drugs, chemicals take over their brain’s reward system, leading them to repeat behaviors that may feel good but ultimately aren’t healthy.

The brain adapts to continued substance use by developing a tolerance, meaning that it takes more of the substance to achieve the same results. That hurts the brain’s ability to resist temptation and often has the side effect of reducing the amount of pleasure a person finds in normal, everyday activities.

Addiction is treatable, and treatment may involve medications to help with cravings and withdrawal, as well as different forms of therapy. But getting to the stage of accepting treatment is often the most difficult step.

Of the more than 20 million people age 12 and older in the United States who had a substance use disorder in 2019, only about 20% received any treatment. While economic factors and a lack of access can play into these figures, stigma — and the persistent belief that addiction is a moral failure — is far too often a key reason why people resist professional help.

As we move forward and attempt to eradicate the stigma that is often associated with addiction, remember that substance use disorders are diseases that can be addressed with the right level of treatment. Have an open mind if someone you know is struggling, avoid using language that perpetuates stigma, and encourage those around you to look for solutions rather than holding on to dangerous, outdated attitudes.

About Pocono Mountain Recovery Center

Pocono Mountain Recovery Center is one of eastern Pennsylvania’s leading addiction treatment centers for adults age 18 and older. Located in Henryville, Pennsylvania, the facility offers a number of programming options, including residential treatment, detoxification services, outpatient programming, and a medication-assisted treatment program. The caring and compassionate staff at Pocono Mountain Recovery Center assists clients as they navigate their recovery journeys. For more information, please visit

Write A Comment


Who Answers?

Calls to the general helpline will be answered by a paid advertiser of one of our treatment partners.