Much of what we know about addiction comes from experiments with lab rats. In one such experiment, researchers gave drug-dependent rodents the choice between drugs and social interaction. The rodents tended to choose social interaction, but when researchers punished them for this choice, they quickly reverted to drug use. For humans, stigma works the same way.

Most people who are struggling with addiction would choose support and treatment but find themselves humiliated and rejected when they try to seek it. Sometimes, the stigma even comes from healthcare providers.

Unfortunately, many healthcare personnel are not trained in caring for people with substance use disorders. When a nurse or physician does not have this training, they may not know how to handle someone going through withdrawal or acting strangely due to a “high.” If staff in emergency departments or other healthcare settings are dismissive or fearful and do not provide treatment with dignity and compassion, the person seeking treatment is unlikely to return – or even seek help elsewhere. This might mean someone who visits the hospital for a nonfatal overdose will not seek rehabilitation in the future.

In the worst-case scenario, stigma leads to a fatal overdose. A reporter from Scientific American illuminated this principle with an illuminating story from Puerto Rico. The author met a man with a severely infected heroin injection, and when they encouraged him to go to the emergency room, he said he had been “treated horribly on previous occasions and preferred risking his life, or probable amputation, to the prospect of repeating his humiliation.”

Misunderstandings of Addiction

Addiction is a complex brain disorder, but many people see it as a result of moral weakness and flawed character. Of all the people in the world who need a modern, scientific understanding of addiction, no one needs it more than healthcare providers. As the author of the Scientific American article explains:

There must be wider recognition that susceptibility to the brain changes in addiction is substantially influenced by factors outside an individual’s control, such as genetics and the environment in which one is born and raised, and that medical care is often necessary to facilitate recovery as well as to avert the worst outcomes, such as overdose.”

Just like other diseases, addiction is not the afflicted person’s fault, and many people require care to get better. If the care they receive at their rock bottom is compassionate and appropriate, they are more likely to get better. Conversely, if the care they receive leaves them with a sense of internalized shame, they may decide addiction is better than getting help.


Always be kind to others and do your best to understand, even if the situation seems scary or does not make sense. If you are struggling with addiction, remember that your illness is not your fault and you have nothing to be ashamed of. Whether you have had a bad experience with treatment in the past or have never sought rehabilitation services before, know that October Road is ready to help you.

Our trauma-informed behavioral health professionals are waiting for you with open arms. We have been dismantling the stigma surrounding addiction and helping people get sober since 2006, and we are ready to help you, too.

Rest assured you will not be judged when you call us at (888) 201-5086. If you feel more comfortable, you can even send us a message online. We provide compassionate care to patients at our Asheville location.

We are here to find what works for you and help you rediscover the joys of sober living – don’t hesitate to call or click today.

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