Recovery and stigma

SAMHSA did a survey of attitudes toward addiction and recovery. The press release paints a very optimistic picture, but the full report tells me that we have a long way to go.

30% of respondents said they’d think less of a friend with a drug problem and 18% said they’d think less of a friend in recovery. 66% said that they would be comfortable being friends with someone in recovery, 63% would be comfortable working with someone in recovery and 57% would be comfortable living next door to someone in recovery.

I’m not sure how to feel about this, but I suspect we’re supposed to be thrilled. I don’t find it very encouraging. Polls about attitudes toward gay people offer more optimistic numbers for gay rights activists and they still face considerable stigma and ballot initiatives in every election cycle.

I understand that this kind of process is important, but I sort of resent people even being asked whether they are comfortable with me. I don’t really care if they’re comfortable with me. What I do care about is whether they are willing to extend community help and support to the addict who is still suffering. Clearly, we’re not there.

I also want to normalize recovery just as much as the next guy, but I’m a little worried that our advocacy of recovery may inadvertently reinforce stigma against active addicts by emphasizing, “We’re in recovery! You have nothing to fear from us.” As a person in recovery, I don’t need anyone’s acceptance and I wonder if promoting recovery is really the best way to soften attitudes toward active addicts.

Some of the more troubling findings included that about 40% respondents believe that addicts and alcoholics had only themselves to blame and 42% believe that illicit drug addicts can’t recover.

I’m not sure what to make of the prevention attitudes. I suspect SAMHSA finds them encouraging, but I assume that they are more symptomatic of the belief that addiction has a lot to do with a person “losing their way”, “getting hooked”, or falling in with the wrong crowd.”

One more question (to add to the meandering nature of this post). How might current efforts to define “recovery” in a specific, yet inclusive way, affect social attitudes toward addicts?

Okay, another question. Are the motivations to include non-abstinent addicts as “recovering” inclusive compatible with neurobiology and the stigma reduction agenda?

2 thoughts on “Recovery and stigma

  1. hi i am doing my thesis on the stigma faced by those in recovery (especially women) do you have any material on it?

  2. Pamela Woll published a very good manual on stigma reduction through GLATTC and Bill White has written several articles on the subject, his book "Slaying the Dragon" also has a a lot on the subject.

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