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End Stigma. Find Treatment. Begin Healing.

What is stigma?

Stigma occurs when individuals are discriminated against, rejected or left out because of a negative stereotype. The NIH recognizes that stigma related to opioid addiction stems from inaccurate beliefs that addiction is a moral failing, instead of what it is, a medical condition. These beliefs can lead to forms of discrimination including, abstinence-only policies, barriers to effective treatment and loss of employment or housing. Negative stereotypes related to addiction keeps people from reaching out for help and isolates families who fear judgment in their community.

Research shows four primary areas for stigma to occur:

  • Self-Stigma: loss of hope following a relapse and shame associated with asking for help
  • Public-Stigma: negative and/or discriminatory attitudes that others have about addiction
  • Professional-Stigma: bias and negative judgement by health care providers toward people with substance use disorder which impacts the quality of treatment and care they receive
  • Institutional-Stigma: government policies and private organizations that intentionally/unintentionally limit opportunities for people with substance use disorder

The opposite of addiction is connection

  • Opioid addiction is a treatable medical condition.
  • Changing the conversation around opioid addiction involves education and empowering individuals to understand the challenges that someone living with an opioid addiction may have.
  • Expressing calmness, understanding, and empathy can help a person living with opioid addiction be honest with their loved ones and feel confident to seek effective treatment.
  • Understanding and expressing a positive attitude can counteract stigma and lead to supportive employment, access to treatment, shared decision making and more.

Recovery is a process

In recovery, especially in the early stages, it can be difficult. Recovery is highly personal and different for everyone. Improvements are not always immediate and not always observable by others. Recovery can be challenging and about choosing to handle longstanding issues and symptoms in a way that does not include unsafe substances. Recovery is not one size fits all and looks different for everyone.

  • Medications for Addiction Treatment (MAT) and Medications for Opioid Use Disorder (MOUD) includes medications for addiction recovery, an effective form of treatment that can help someone on their road to recovery. MAT and MOUD have been shown to be clinically effective and provide a comprehensive, individually tailored program that consists of medications and behavioral therapy to address the needs of patients.
  • There are several different kinds of effective recovery programs. Recovery programs are not one size fits all, each person is different, but everyone deserves access to treatment during their recovery process.

How to talk to a loved one

Conversations about addiction can be tough. Emotions and feelings can be strong so how you convey your message is important. Before you choose to approach a loved one who is living with an addiction, avoid using statements that are centered around blame or judgment. Be mindful of their situation and remember to keep conversations private. Here are a few ideas to get the conversation started:

  • "I am here for you"
  • "I am here to listen, not to be judgmental, and I care about your safety"
  • "Do you feel like your opioid use is a problem?"
  • "What can I do to best support you right now"
  • "Would you like to research some treatment options together"
  • "Thank you for trusting me to help you, I really value you, and I care about you"

Changing the conversation

Words can hurt, but they can also heal

Consider using the recommended terms to reduce stigma when talking about addiction. Learn more about why words matter here:

Stigmatized Language Preferred Language
Addict Has an addiction
Addicted to X Has a X use disorder
Clean In recovery
Clean Screen Substance free
Dirty Actively using
Dirty screen Testing positive for substance use
Drug habit Regular substance use
Drug abuser Person who is using substances
Opioid replacement Medications for Addiction Treatment

To find treatment resources, visit the treatment webpage.

Additional Resources for Support in Alaska:

  • Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority
    Provides resources for Alaskans to access assistance for mental health services, addiction intervention, substance abuse treatment, and more
  • Anchorage Health Department
    Provides information to treatment programs for addiction that Include MAT, behavioral therapy and are available to pregnant women, babies, adults, and more
  • Medications for Addiction Treatment Guide
    Provides overview of what MAT is, a breakdown of the medications approved for use with MAT/MOUD treatment, and more
  • NAMI
    Provides resources to support groups, recovery, in crisis situations, education, advocacy, and more for mental health and opioid use
  • Nar-Anon
    Provides support through "family groups" for those who know or have known a feeling of desperation concerning the addiction problem of someone near them.
  • Residential Substance Use Disorder Availability
    Treatment program that provides organized treatment services for individuals, group and family therapy, with emphasis in recovery skills, relapse prevention and more for persons experiencing addiction with substance misuse
  • SAMHSA Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator
    A confidential and anonymous source of information for persons seeking treatment facilities in the United States or U.S. Territories for substance use/addiction and/or mental health problems.
  • Stigma Reduction
    CDC article page that provides information on opioid use disorder (OUD) and understanding stigma surrounding addiction, relapse, and recovery
  • Treatment Connection
    A provider locator for those seeking substance use or mental health treatment.