Addiction Treatment Stigma – It’s a Thing

When stigma and addiction are mentioned in the same sentence, conversations always center around the stigma people have concerning addiction itself and the preconceived ideas they have about individuals who abuse drugs and alcohol. However, there’s another phenomenon that drug rehab facilities aren’t always anxious to discuss… addiction treatment stigma.

The idea of addiction treatment stigma certainly has its roots in addiction stigma itself. People often don’t want others to know they’re addicted or that they have a family member struggling with addiction. They also don’t want anyone to know that they are seeking treatment for it. The shame of addiction is a very real part of the disease, and keeps too many people from pursuing treatment sooner. Unfortunately, this shame often extends to treatment as well.

Addiction treatment stigma arises due to many factors. Detox and drug rehab centers should consider the following factors in order to communicate more effectively with potential patients. Understanding these points can help you create the best possible public perception of addiction treatment services.

Causes of Addiction Treatment Stigma

Many factors, from social norms to state and federal laws, from controversial admissions and marketing practices to treatment centers’ business core values, contribute to the stigma around addiction treatment, including the following:

Patient Brokering

Most people who aren’t in the addiction treatment industry have no idea what “patient brokering” means. This illegal practice occurs when “body brokers” make money by recruiting addicts for unethical treatment facilities.

In places like South Florida and Arizona where there are a high number of drug rehab centers and sober homes, flocks of young adults are in treatment at any given time. Many of them will relapse, and some will find themselves homeless with nothing but the suitcase they arrived with. They come from all parts of the country and are easy to spot by body brokers when they:

  • Show up in groups to buy supplies at convenience stores
  • Hang out in front of 12-step meetings and chain smoke
  • Gather in groups in coffee shops
  • Wait around for money deliveries from parents near the Western Union at Walmart stores

If these people have health insurance coverage, body brokers will offer them free housing and transportation. They may receive a gift card for a grocery store… perhaps a cell phone or membership to a gym. Sometimes, the bribes are even bigger… maybe an Xbox, cash or even drugs.

Once an addict is a referral at an unscrupulous treatment center, the body broker receives a payment as a ‘marketer.’ These payoffs may total hundreds or thousands of dollars.

These patient brokers will often stoop to any level to get a “bounty” for new patients. They apparently have no hesitation in posing as patients at detox facilities for the sole purpose of looking for new prospects. Although such practices are nothing new, they continue nearly unabated. Stories about patient brokering are making news, which only adds to addiction treatment stigma that people have.

Unbranded Drug Rehab Websites

No one questions the pressure drug rehab centers are under to fill beds in a highly competitive field. That has pushed some facilities to create unbranded websites to attract additional web traffic. These websites often try to appear like an independent source verifying that one rehab center may be better than another. It’s bad news when the public learns that an unbranded website is directly connected to a particular drug rehab center. They see that as a deceptive practice, and they assume every drug rehab does this sort of thing. When something injures the reputation of drug rehabs, it inevitable that addiction treatment stigma only gets worse.

There are now a number of web pages that tell readers how to spot tell-tale signs that a “neutral” drug rehab information website is actually owned by a drug rehab center. These web pages tell readers that such sites either don’t have an “about us” page or the information on it is very easy to verify as false. Although getting more traffic is tempting, remember that unbranded websites suggest deception in many cases. Any suggestion of deception harms the reputation of drug rehab centers everywhere.

Above all else, rehab centers must be able to gain the trust of potential patients. Never forget that patients take a giant leap of faith in picking a drug rehab center for treatment, especially if they haven’t been in a treatment program before. Without that sense of trust from an accredited medical provider, this decision becomes difficult, if not impossible.

Let’s End Addiction Treatment Stigma

Those who work in the drug rehab industry are acutely aware of addiction stigma. Facilities need to recognize addiction treatment stigma and address it in marketing, admissions, operations, and clinical care.

Without question, the greatest strength that drug rehab centers can have is for the public to see you as having integrity. They should also realize that you are their best hope for positive outcomes. You must eliminate anything that interferes with these two perceptions. That’s the only way to end addiction treatment stigma. To learn more about how addiction stigma can affect your marketing efforts call Dreamscape Marketing at 888.307.7304.

To read more about addiction treatment stigma, download Dreamscape Marketing’s complimentary whitepaper, “The Stigma is No Longer Around Addiction as a Disease, Rather, Around Addiction Treatment” available here.