Stigma Of Alcoholism
Stigma is a word you heard your whole life. You were diagnosed with ADHD at age 6, and everyone automatically assumed you were high-strung. Even your dad would yell and tell you things like “I’ll give you something to cry about. Sit still and pay attention.” You tried, but with parents who didn’t believe you had ADHD, and teachers advising that you needed extra help, you got caught in the middle and fell through the system.
So, it is no surprise when you develop an alcohol problem. Drinking helped you wind down and took the edge off. But your friends started saying things to you that sounded just like the stigma you heard when you were a kid. One buddy had the gumption to tell you “How do you hold a job when you drink so much?” This just fueled you; alcohol was not in control. Until it got to the point that you were believing the very stigmas you couldn’t stand. Why? How?
In a recent Florida article, it has been said that women are now drinking as much as men. The ratio had previously been 3:1 in 2016. Now it is almost 1:1. At Clean Recovery Centers, we understand that responsibilities and life in general can be tough for both men and women, leading to drinking more. Our treatment program addresses all aspects of addiction and has wellness components to encourage healthy habits. But why are men and especially women not seeking treatment? Today’s blog discusses the stigmas of alcohol use disorder, and how we can work to break them.
Stigmas and Stereotypes: How Do They Coincide with Alcohol Use Disorder?
What are stigmas and stereotypes? A stereotype is defined as a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image of a type of person or thing. In other words, society believes the majority of said person or thing to be a certain way. A common stereotype is that people over a certain age do not know how to use technology. When it comes to alcohol use disorder, the stereotype is often someone who is homeless, jobless, and often with no family or friends. While this does happen to some people living with alcohol use disorder, it is not the norm. Many people are living with high-functioning alcoholism, holding down careers and families with no inclination of managing the disorder.
While no one wants to be stereotyped, stigma is one of the main reasons many living with alcohol use disorder do not seek treatment. According to the dictionary, stigma is defined as a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person. Those living with alcohol use disorder already feel emotional distress, whether trying to medicate an undiagnosed mental health condition or coping with loss, they often feel guilty for needing alcohol to cope. With society only seeing stigma – that they are just drinking because they want to and should be able to stop on their own – the person will feel the pressures of not being able to quit but guilt for even thinking of treatment. This is how stigma can be detrimental to those managing an alcohol use disorder.
Why Many Women with Alcohol Use Disorders Don’t Seek Treatment
While also a stereotype, women are often seen as the caregivers in the home. Taking care of the children, keeping up with household chores, running errands for the family, and also trying to maintain her own mental and personal health are typical livelihoods of women all over the country. If she needs treatment for alcohol use disorder, who will take care of the children? Who will make sure the laundry is caught up? These are the responsibilities that weigh heavy on her mind, and the thought of leaving them to someone else is often overwhelming.
The same scenario can be said for single moms or moms who are the financial providers in the household. How will the bills get paid if she is away? Not all insurance plans cover inpatient treatment for alcohol use disorder, and there is always the fear that her employer will find out why she is absent. This is another deterrent for women to not seek treatment for alcohol use disorder.
Stigma affects women just as much as men, and the shame felt with needing help keeps women away from treatment. In a recent study, women of different races were surveyed about their thoughts on wanting or needing treatment. Many stated that they either felt the problem was in their control, they were of a certain race and that meant they didn’t talk about it, or that they felt shame and guilt for even turning to substances such as alcohol in the first place. Breaking these stigmas and reaching all women equally is the only way to help women find the treatment they need.
The Problem with Alcohol Stereotyping
One of the biggest problems with stereotyping those who drink heavily or binge drink is reducing the severity of the issue. Say you are out with friends, having drinks and shots while at a bar. You seem to be drinking everyone “under the table,” and one friend jokes “Hey you must be an alcoholic.” But you know the stereotypical alcoholic is uneducated, homeless, and begging on the streets for money. So, you downplay the severity of your situation. Meanwhile, you drink every day, waking up wondering how many drinks are too many anyway. You maintain your work, school, and home life just fine though, so you don’t need treatment. But then your liver fails at the young age of 38, making you wonder how things could have been different if you had gotten help.
Another stereotype is that the person with alcoholism chooses to become dependent. They made the decision to start drinking and now lack the willpower to stop. This creates not only feelings of guilt and shame but also inadequacy. Friends or family telling them to get over it makes the person feel like they are not capable of being in control. This can lead to more drinking as the thought is that is where they have control in their life, instead of seeking treatment.
Using the Correct Words to Reduce Alcohol-Related Stigma
We often refer to those who have a problem drinking as “alcoholics” or “alcohol abusers.” These terms are considered outdated, as the connotation supports the negative stigma surrounding the condition. According to the DSM-5, alcohol use disorder is a mental health condition, and can be managed with proper treatment. Think of someone who has cancer – you wouldn’t tell them to “just get over it,” or “why aren’t you better yet,” while they are getting treated. The same goes when discussing treatment with a person seeking or in recovery for alcohol use disorder. Connotation is key, and avoiding negative speech will help the person open up and seek treatment.
How to Beat the Stigma of Alcoholism One Word at a Time
As we mentioned, certain words and phrases should be avoided when trying to discuss with a friend or loved one about seeking treatment. Here are some words and phrases to keep out of the conversation:
- Alcoholic, alcohol abuser, addict
- Lacking willpower or control
- This was a choice, choose to stop
- They should feel ashamed, guilty, or negative about themselves
It is okay to be firm about feelings when discussing with someone managing an alcohol use disorder. Listen to their feelings and stay positive, but also give them perspective about treatment or getting help. By keeping an open mind instead of leading with stigma, the person will be more open and willing to accept suggestions.
Getting Help with Alcohol Use Disorder in Tampa, Florida
It is easy to feel like there isn’t a problem because you are not as “bad off” as the stereotypical alcoholic. This does not mean that drinking is not a concern for you, and physical and mental health signs may become difficult to manage. Seeking treatment for alcohol use disorder is not a shameful act, but a brave and courageous decision to reclaim your life. Relearning yourself and your passions will be more fulfilling than alcohol ever was.
Breaking stigmas and stereotypes is never easy, but leaving alcohol behind can be a great first step to helping someone feel they are not alone. Clean Recovery Centers is proud to offer a unique, three-phase approach to addiction treatment in multiple locations throughout Florida. We offer housing at each facility, so you will be able to surround yourself with like-minded peers and continue to build the community of recovery. Call us today at (888) 330-2532 to learn more about our program options.
What is the stigma associated with alcoholism?
Many believe those with alcoholism are homeless, violent, jobless, and mentally ill. This accounts for a very small population of those living with alcoholism.
How does society view alcoholics?
Society has viewed alcoholics in the past as not functional members. As time has gone on, more medical professionals, treatment centers, and therapists are working to break this stigma.