The first week of October is National Mental Illness Awareness Week. One in eight American adults, or 12.7 percent of the U.S. population, faces alcohol addiction. This week is devoted to talking openly about mental illness and bringing awareness to alcohol addiction stigmas.
Alcohol Addiction Stigmas
Alcohol addiction is often looked at differently than other mental health illnesses. A common stigma is the thought that it’s the persons choice to drink alcohol and to be addicted, rather than viewing it as a mental illness.
“Alcohol addiction is probably more socially acceptable than drug addiction, but I don’t believe it is looked at in the same light as other mental illnesses like depression or bipolar disorder,” Jennifer Molina, clinical director assistant at Beachside Rehab, says. “Substance use disorders are stigmatized as if there is a separate classification for this type of mental illness. Typically, these mental illnesses are looked at as if a person has no choice — they were born that way and they can’t help it.
Beachside strives to fight this stigma and teach others that alcoholism is treatable just like many other mental illnesses. “Alcoholism is no more a choice than having anxiety,” Molina says. “Honestly, addiction to substances in general, including alcohol, is a mental health illness. It should be regarded as the same.” Stigmas prevent a lot of people suffering from alcohol addiction from getting help because they are being socially and personally shamed for their behaviors or addictions.
How Stigmas Affect Recovery
Stigmas are detrimental to a person’s recovery and effective addiction treatment. The National Alliance on Mental Illness explains that stigmas are toxic to mental health because it creates an environment of shame, fear, and silence that prevents many people from seeking help and treatment.
“Fear often prevents people from getting help,” Molina says. “It takes courage to admit you need help and the fear and worry sets in when people will find out that you are an alcoholic.”
Stigmas surrounding alcohol addiction can be:
- Negative attitudes or stereotypes
- Public discrimination or unfair treatment
- Not understanding alcoholism as a mental illness
Helping Family Understand Harmful Stigmas
When dealing with a mental illness, many families don’t understand the extent what that their loved ones are going through emotionally. “We work hard to engage families in family therapy and provide them with education so that they can support their loved one in recovery,” Molina says. “It is so important not to continue to perpetuate the cycle of the harmful stigma of addiction. We ask the family to show understanding and compassion, just as they would for someone with depression or any mental health issues.”
Changeyourmind.org shares helpful information on what families can do to support their loved ones:
- Ask what you can do to help
- Take the time to listen and not judge
- Be there for them and help when needed
- Thank them for telling you and recognize it takes courage to speak out
Combating Addiction Stigmas
“We empower our clients to believe that they are beyond a statistic and a label,” Molina says. “The old saying ‘once a drunk, always a drunk’ is not true, and our clients are more than their label,” Molina says.
Understanding that alcohol addiction is a mental health illness and people suffering from addiction should be treated equally is just the first step to ending stigmas. If you or someone you know is suffering from alcohol addiction, it’s okay to ask for help. We can provide you with a safe place to boost your confidence and beat addiction for good.