The stigma of alcoholism goes back almost as far as alcohol use itself. People have long stigmatized those who struggle with alcoholism as “mentally weak,” “morally bankrupt,” or “self-centered to the core.” Of course, we now know that this is untrue. Alcoholism is a chronic disease that affects people mentally, psychologically, and biologically. Its chronic nature also makes it extremely difficult to overcome without some form of professional intervention. Yet, this only scratches the surface as to why eliminating the stigma surrounding alcoholism must remain a top priority.
Understanding Social Stigmas
Alcohol stigma is just one example of the social stigmas that still permeate our society. These are stigmas such as people who take medication for mental illness are outliers, the stigmas surrounding race and gender, and the stigma surrounding sex, obesity, and body positivity.
However, the most dominant stigmas in the recovery realm tend to focus on alcohol and substance abuse. While these stigmas have somewhat lessened over the years, they are still very present in today’s culture.
What Are the Common Stigmas Surrounding Alcoholism?
Perhaps the most common stigma surrounding alcoholism is the stigma that alcoholism is a “choice.” We now know that this is untrue. Yes, choosing to take a drink is a choice (though there are also factors in one’s life that can make that choice more likely to be in the affirmative). However, developing an addiction to alcohol is not a choice. Alcohol addiction, or alcoholism, is a disease that some people develop, and others do not. While some factors also contribute to why addiction may take hold, ultimately no one is immune to alcoholism if the circumstances permit.
Another common stigma surrounding alcoholism is that someone struggling with alcoholism doesn’t want to stop drinking. This is not the case. Rather, the truth is that they are struggling with a disease that needs medical attention to halt it. Most people with alcoholism want to stop, yet they just cannot accomplish it alone.
The last common stigma surrounding alcoholism is that people with “real” alcoholism cannot function in their day-to-day lives. This is not true at all. Many people struggle with functional alcoholism, and they need and deserve help just as much as those who exhibit visible signs and symptoms of alcoholism.
Eliminating the Stigma Surrounding Alcoholism
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), “People with AUD [alcoholism] can feel isolated and rejected because they have come to believe that the negative attitudes and false beliefs about AUD they have heard from others – or have picked up from society at large – apply to them. Some may even sense stigmatizing attitudes from their healthcare providers, which can compromise their care.” Much of this stigma comes from the way that people talk about alcoholism.
When people use words and phrases like “choice” and “stop if they want to,” it can do serious harm to those trying to recover from alcoholism. Words like “drunk,” “lush,” or even “alcoholic” can harm a person’s chances of seeking recovery in the first place.
Also, the cliche of “once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic” is a very common stigmatizing phrase that does serious harm to the recovery community. The truth is that anyone can recover from alcoholism if they want it and are willing to work for it.
Alcoholism Stigma: If You See or Hear Something, Say Something
Eliminating the stigma surrounding alcoholism doesn’t have to be very complicated or involved all of the time. Yes, working with local community centers and local community leaders and representatives to end addiction stigmas is important, but so too is stopping to say something when we see or hear stigma.
For example, if someone is using one of those previously mentioned terms like “drunk,” it is okay (in fact, necessary) to tell them that the language that they are using is hurtful. Interestingly enough, we often find that the person meant no harm and was just uninformed. Yet, for those individuals who were spreading stigma on purpose, hopefully calling them out will be embarrassing enough to get them to think twice before using that language again.
Reducing Alcohol Stigma at The Phoenix Recovery Center
Here at The Phoenix Recovery Center, we have long understood that alcoholism is a disease, not a choice. Also, because it is a serious disease, we treat it with the respect and seriousness that it requires.
Though it has certainly improved dramatically over the last century or so, there is still a lot of stigma regarding alcoholism. These are stigmas such as an individual with alcoholism “choosing” to continue to drink, that being in recovery is “boring,” and that people with alcoholism have a “moral failing.” The truth is that these types of stigmas still hurt and sway people from getting the help they need, which is why we must continue to advocate against stigma to help people with alcoholism recover.
If you or a loved one is struggling to overcome alcoholism, please reach out to The Phoenix Recovery Center today at (801) 438-3185.