Many Americans struggle with addiction every year. SAMHSA’s 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) estimates that over 22 million Americans aged 12 and older, or 8.5 percent of this population, had struggled with either substance abuse or dependence. Substance abuse and dependence are both distinct from substance addiction, but the three often go together, and millions of people who abuse drugs become addicted to them. But while millions of people struggle with substance abuse, dependence and addiction, only a small percentage actually seek out professional help. The NSDUH reports that in 2011, approximately 2.5 million Americans actually received treatment at a specialty substance treatment facility. These figures show that most people struggling with substance abuse and addiction aren’t receiving the treatment they need. One major reason for this trend is the stigma that many people associate with substance addiction.

Old and New Understandings of Addiction

Until recently, addiction has been considered a self-control problem. People believed that a person only developed an addiction if he had a weak moral character and an inability to control himself. Because of this, people used to hide their addictions and pretend like everything was under control in their lives.

Over the past few decades, though, doctors and scientists have studied addiction extensively, and have made several significant conclusions. As the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) explains, addiction is now understood to be “a chronic, often relapsing brain disease that causes compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences to the addicted individual and to those around him or her,” and that while a person makes a voluntary decision to use drugs at first, “the brain changes that occur over time challenge an addicted person’s self-control and hamper his or her ability to resist intense impulses to take drugs.”

The scientific understanding of addiction has changed, but much of the public view of addiction is still negative. Many people still don’t fully understand what addiction is and how it works. As a result, the majority of people struggling with addiction still feel ashamed about their condition and avoid seeking professional treatment. This results in millions of people not receiving the addiction treatment that they need.

Key Components of Effective Addiction Treatment

Avoiding addiction treatment can be dangerous, though. Because addiction can cause physical and psychological harm to both the person with the addiction and those around him, it is essential that he receive professional treatment as soon as possible. And since addiction is a chronic disease, it is completely treatable. Like other chronic diseases, such as heart disease and asthma, it must be addressed and treated by a healthcare professional, and then managed with a long-term recovery plan. The NIDA lists several essential components of effective substance addiction treatment, including:

  • Treatment must be customized to meet the needs of the individual patient
  • It must be readily available
  • It must be comprehensive, addressing all the physical, psychological and social needs of the person
  • It must last long enough to be effective
  • Behavioral therapy is an effective and important component of treatment
  • Some treatment may also include medicinal therapy
  • Healthcare providers must continually assess and modify treatment to ensure its effectiveness

In order for more people struggling with substance addiction to seek out professional treatment, it is necessary for society’s perception of addiction to change. A big part of this change will occur when people realize that addiction is a chronic disease rather than a character flaw. Once society fully understands this, people with addictions will be able to receive professional treatment without harsh judgment.

Find Out More About the Stigma of Addiction

If you are struggling with addiction but have been too afraid to get professional help because of the stigma attached to the disease, please give our toll free helpline a call right now. Our admissions coordinators are available 24 hours a day to talk more with you about the stigmas of addiction and how they interfere with treatment. They can also help you find a treatment program that will best fit your specific needs. Call us today to get more information.