Overcoming the Substance Abuse Stigma in Recovery

A stigma is when people have a negative belief about a particular group. When it comes to substance abuse and the recovery process, those dealing with it often find that they’re stigmatized. Others might think that substance addicts are not able to rebuild trust in any aspect of their lives, for example, even after recovery. A teen dealing with addiction might feel that they’re a bad person because others stigmatize them. Your teen might lose friends because they do not want to be associated with someone who is struggling with an addiction. A substance abuse stigma can even follow your teen in the future after the addiction is under control. Here are some ways that negative perceptions of those struggling with addictions can impact your teenager now and in the future.


Why Does Addiction Carry a Stigma?

There’s no doubt that addiction and recovery carry a stigma, but why? What makes an addiction different from depression, bipolar disorder, or even diabetes or heart disease, when it comes to the way people perceive it? Salon.com offers several reasons to consider. Perhaps the primary reason is that many addicts do not seek treatment. Or, if they do seek treatment, they might not see it all the way through. Remember that recovery is often a lifelong process and most addicts need to abstain from the substance(s) for a lifetime.

Another possible reason for the substance abuse stigma is because often the substance in question is illegal and people can end up in prison for having it on them or being under its influence, even if there is no intent to sell it. For a teenager, this includes every type of substance, including alcohol. The parents of his or her friends might forbid their kids from spending time with your son or daughter once it’s revealed that they’re struggling with a substance abuse problem. Also, your child can end up with a criminal record for being an addict under certain circumstances.


The Stigma for Parents of Addicts

Parents judge other parents for just about everything, beginning during pregnancy. It’s likely that you or your partner was asked how you planned on delivering your baby and whether you would breastfeed or bottlefeed. You might have undergone scrutiny and the evil eye when your kindergartener was still sucking his thumb or when your eight-year-old let a curse word fly at the playground. Unfortunately, parents are held to impossible standards and the judging comes mostly from other moms and dads.

As the parent of a teen struggling with a substance abuse problem, you’re going to have people judging you. They will wonder, perhaps aloud, what you did wrong and how they can avoid making the same mistakes. While it can be heartbreaking to hear this type of musing, it’s often good to ignore, particularly when you are in the midst of dealing with this crisis in your family. In time, the meddlers will move onto someone else whose child has gotten into an unfortunate situation. If you join a support group for the parents and family members of addicted teens, you will probably hear this theme come up at times. Bring up the topic to those who will understand and commiserate.


How Can You Help Their Teen Overcome the Stigma?

If your teen is overwhelmed by the substance abuse stigma, he or she might be less likely to seek help. It’s also more likely that they’ll want to drop out of treatment or that they’ll relapse soon after being released from an intensive treatment program. Working with your teenager to overcome these bad feelings can help boost the odds of his or her ultimate success in beating the addiction.

Make your home a safe place – One of the main ways you can help is to make your household a safe place for your teen to express him- or herself. Don’t let your feelings about substance abuse mar your relationship with your child. Also, ask your family members, both those in your home and those in your extended family, to look at how they might stigmatize those with addictions. Helping them to understand what they are doing subconsciously can help them to change their behaviors and attitudes.

Take your teen to a support group – Another vital part of helping your teen overcome substance abuse stigma is to get him or her involved in a support group. This will be an important component of his or her recovery process. It will also encourage your teen to open up to others who are dealing with the same issues.


Helping Your Teen Deal With Substance Abuse Stigma After Recovery

One of the obstacles that your child will have to deal with after the intensive recovery phase is the stigma that they’ll face. Particularly if the department of justice has been involved, others will likely know about your teen’s struggles and might whisper or make comments directly to your teen. This is more common among a young person’s peers, but it could extend to teachers or employers. Don’t hesitate to talk to your child’s principal if a teacher says something unprofessional. That type of behavior should be nipped in the bud. If your teen isn’t comfortable approaching the school authorities, you can do so yourself.

As your teen goes through life, he or she can decide to share the struggles associated with addiction and recovery as they so choose. Let your child know that it’s always a personal decision. Do not share the information with others without your teen’s permission; it’s his or her story to tell. At some point, your teen might decide that the story will help others and may share it easily.

Helping your teen through the recovery process after a substance abuse problem will be a difficult task. In addition to helping him or her avoid a relapse, you’ll need to be your child’s encourager as they meet the challenges of facing the substance abuse stigma. Talk to your teen and try to keep the lines of communication open so you can learn what you need to do to provide the support they need to succeed.