The stigma surrounding addiction is evident in everything from the criminal justice system to treatment facilities themselves. Stigma is harmful in many ways – here, we look at five key ways that it stands in the way of recovery.

Stigma of addiction


  • Learn five key ways that stigma gets in the way of successful addiction recovery.
  • Learn five key ways that stigma gets in the way of successful addiction recovery.

Addiction has been categorised as a disease by most medical communities around the world. Like many diseases, there are both hereditary and environmental causes. But unlike others diseases, victims of addiction must also deal with the stigma it incurs.

Here we discuss the biggest danger of that stigma- that it perpetuates addiction because it stands in the way of recovery. Here are five key ways that stigma hinders recovery.

1. Stigma Keeps People from Seeking Addiction Treatment.

The fear of being labelled an addict keeps many people from talking to their doctor or psychiatrist about their need for help. Many feel if they seek treatment they will be labelled by friends, family and health professionals as an addict. For many, the label of addiction can seem worse the addiction itself. This is why many high-functioning addicts lead compartmentalized lives in which their addiction thrives in secrecy.

2. Stigma Causes those in Recovery to come Under Suspicion.

Anyone who has started their journey to recovery is familiar with the feeling of being treated like they are always on the verge of relapse by those around them.  This is a direct result of the stereotyping and shaming surrounding addiction.

Family and peer support is an essential component of successful addiction recovery, but stigma causes people to misunderstand addiction as simply an issue of willpower. This commonly held misconception makes recovery difficult to maintain when stigma turns would-be support from loved ones into suspicion.

Problem with drugs

3. Addicted People are Criminalised Instead of being Treated.

In societies all over the world, those with addiction are at risk for criminal consequences. This is largely due to the lack of understanding that addiction is a disease.

Hefty criminal penalties for those who commit drug-related crimes massively hinder treatment.  Not only are incarcerated people unable to attend treatment programmes, but there are often more (and more dangerous) substances available in prisons themselves.  Furthermore, having a criminal record makes it significantly more difficult to attain stability in terms of employment, housing and other areas.  The resulting insecurity makes it all the more difficult to remain sober in the face of immense life stress.

A better alternative, which is being adopted in some countries, is handling addiction-related crimes with prevention and treatment, rather than jail time. Until we are able to recognise that stigma impedes society’s ability to properly treat addiction, we will continue to see people jailed for their addiction.

4. Stereotyping Causes Society to Send the Opposite Message of what You Learn in Rehab.

Most addiction treatment programmes aim to help you develop techniques to stop patterns of self-blaming and shaming. Any person who has experienced addiction intimately understands that self-shame is an integral part of addiction and difficult to escape. In treatment, addiction specialists can work with you to break these entrenched cycles.

However, the unfortunate truth is that often people leave treatment only to receive the opposite message in many areas in their lives.  A society with inaccurate beliefs about addiction lies blame and shame on addicts, making recovery more difficult to maintain.  Shame plays a major role, both in perpetuating addiction and impeding our ability to cope after treatment.

5. Misconceptions Mean Many Mental Health Professionals Do Not Understand Addiction.

Often, addiction goes hand in hand with mental health concerns. Unfortunately, if a person who is receiving help for a mental wellness issue also has an addiction, they are met with judgment by health professionals with no addiction-specific training.

There are mental health facilities that simply refuse patients who struggle with addiction, reasoning that they cannot help someone until they are sober, or that mental health issues would stop if the patient discontinued their substance abuse.

Not only is this inaccurate and a poor reaction to addiction, but it both directly and indirectly hinders treatment. These professionals do not offer treatment for the person struggling with addiction and moreover, after a reaction like that, that person likely feels discouraged to seek help elsewhere.

What is Addiction

Breaking the Stigma of Addiction

Despite this largely held and scientifically backed belief that addiction is a disease caused by both biological and environmental factors, we see stigma deeply embedded in society. This systemic humiliation must be changed within our major institutions, as we only perpetuate addiction by continuing a pattern of shame which hinders recovery. We must break the stigma of addiction in order to save lives affected by drug and alcohol abuse.

At The Cabin Hong Kong, we understand the complexity of addiction. We also understand that stigma is very much a real battle for those who have addiction concerns. Our highly trained clinical professionals work with you to assist you through your recovery within a completely judgement-free space. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, contact us today to see how our qualified addiction specialists can help.