Our society is no stranger to the problems of substance abuse, or the stigma that comes with it. Stigma is defined as “a mark of shame or discredit” and its effect on the person already struggling with substance abuse makes them reluctant to seek help or admit they have a problem. By applying the following tips, we can help foster understanding and potentially save lives.

Understand what addiction stigma is - In any fight, the best and most basic defense is to know who and or what you’re fighting. When understanding what it is, the more capable you are to defeat it.

Don’t be ashamed of yourself - This may be easier said than done, but you need to realize that the way you feel about yourself is your choice. If you let the media or society define who you are, the stigma becomes tougher to deal with, and you suffer. Self-stigma is stronger than anything else; don’t fall victim to it.

Words matter - Many words have a negative connotation to them, and the more we use them, the stronger the stigma becomes. You’d be surprised how eliminating some common words can make a big difference. Instead of referring to an addict as a junkie, use in conversation suffering from substance abuse. Even words such as clean to describe someone who is no longer using drugs can be harmful because it indicates that the latter is dirty, which furthers the stigma.

Be empathetic, but not sympathetic – Do your best to be understanding but stay away from feeling sorry for someone who is struggling with substance abuse. Offer help and solutions to treat the addiction, not a road to keep using drugs.

Do not hide or lie about needing help - A big problem our society faces are that many who suffer never speak of it because they are scared of how they are viewed, which gives more power to the sigma. There is no need to announce to the whole community that the individual is using illegal drugs. However, handling a situation in closed quarters is much different than pretending it doesn’t exist. There are many discreet ways to get the help you need. The important thing is that you get the help you need. This will not only help you but also helps medical professionals better understand the issues and the actual severity of the problem.

Say something – If you feel something is off with someone, or you suspect substance abuse, talk to the person and ensure you do so in a helpful way. By opening up a dialogue with an individual, it allows them to come forward. Some people ignore warning signs for the same reason people hide or lie about needing help. Bringing forward the impact of the addiction will help shed the stigma.

Don’t be afraid to let someone know that their actions are furthering the stigma – This doesn’t mean you need to get into it with them or start a fight. The thing is, some people do not even know the consequences of their actions, especially if they are not educated on the issue. By calmly letting someone know that it’s not okay to shame someone addicted to drugs, we can cause a change.

Educate others – Once you have a better understanding of what stigma is and how to combat it, encourage others to do the same. Our communities and the people living within them are connected now more than ever. Utilize this connection through social media platforms to share what you’ve learned, which makes the fight against stigma stronger.

Share your success - Many people get help with substance abuse but never share their story. This unfortunate trend furthers the stigma because the face of substance abuse remains that of those who are struggling, not those who are successful. By letting others know your story and that recovery is possible, it may help others come forward who may not have before.

Understand how common substance abuse is – Substance abuse isn’t a problem that few people face; it is a national issue that needs more understanding and awareness. Addiction and substance abuse affect all demographics and have a far-reaching effect on families and individuals across the nation.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse more than 70,200 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2017, a 2-fold increase in a decade. We need those affected to reach out for help. To accomplish this, we need to examine the way society regards addiction and eliminate the stigma associated with it. Applying the above tips in your day-to-day life can make a difference in whether they reach out and get help.

Author's Bio: 

Marcel Gemme has been helping people struggling with substance abuse for over 19 years. He first started as an intake counselor for a drug rehabilitation center in 2000. During his 5 years as an intake counselor, he helped many addicts get the treatment they needed. He also dealt with the families and friends of those people; he saw first-hand how much strain addiction puts on a family and how it can tear relationships apart. With drug and alcohol problems constantly on the rise in the United States he decided to use the Internet as a way to educate. Through his website, www.addicted.org, and community outreach he has been able to help many more people.