Stigma: “a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality or person.” You’re all-too-familiar with this definition, because this is something you combat at every level of addiction treatment. Unfortunately, society has decided that those who struggle with substance abuse should feel disgrace instead of dignity, helplessness instead of hope.
Only 10% of the more than 20 million Americans1 with a substance use disorder seek treatment, and shame plays an outsized role in preventing those who need help from seeking it. The negative associations society places on those struggling with addictions impacts everything from the way those with the disorder view themselves to the way addiction treatment providers market their life-saving services.
What is Stigma, Really?
We’ve already covered the definition of stigma, but to truly understand what it is and how it poses a grave barrier to treatment, you need to know where it comes from.
Much like class divisions, racial stereotypes, caste systems, and other schemes intended to divide instead of unify humanity, the stigma of substance abuse is entirely man-made. It’s based on a perfect (or not so perfect) storm of stereotypes, false reasoning, and preconceived notions that have come to influence thoughts and behaviors to diminish the humanity of those with substance use disorders. According to American Addiction Centers,2
Stigma is rarely based on facts but rather on assumptions, preconceptions, and generalizations; therefore, its negative impact can be prevented or lessened through education. Stigma results in prejudice, avoidance, rejection, and discrimination against people who have a socially undesirable trait or engage in culturally marginalized behaviors, such as drug use. Family, friends and the general public can carry negative feelings about drug use or behavior. They may even use derogatory terms such as “junkie,” “alcoholic,” or “crackhead.” These thoughts, feelings, and labels can create and perpetuate stigma.
Just How Much Stigma is There?
A lot more than you might think.
Seven percent of people with a substance abuse disorder3 say their family doesn’t want them to go or would be ashamed by their decision to seek treatment. Another 8.3% said they would lose friends, and 5.4% thought people would think ill of them because of getting treatment. Given that treatment can be the difference between life and death for an individual struggling with substance use disorder, the idea that someone might not support a friend or loved one trying to get help can be baffling.
And this type of stigma even prevents necessary treatments from becoming available. Programs like clean needle exchanges, substitution therapies, and methadone clinics are rejected by society and often unobtainable. For many, offering these services seems to encourage stigmatized behavior, despite these therapies’ proven track record of reducing overall drug use.4
How Can You Overcome the Stigma?
One of the ways to combat the effects of stigma is by devising a marketing strategy to address the barriers posed by shame and disgrace. Incorporate these techniques into your digital marketing plan to promote transparent marketing in addiction and stop stigma in its tracks.
1, Educate the Public
The best way to fight ignorance (and stigmatizing addicts is ignorant) is education. The more you share the truth about drug and alcohol dependency, the origin, treatment options, and who it affects, the less stigma there will be.
Use your ad campaigns to educate the public by sharing the truth about addiction. Facts and figures can really help drive home the reality of the consequences of addiction. And there are so many facts to share about substance abuse. Focusing your efforts on education and facts just might shift a few negative attitudes to the positive.
2. Keep Humanity at the Core
Many substance abusers struggle with labels. I’m an addict. I think I’m a loser. I’m a failure. To persuade them to seek treatment, the narrative has to shift.
For those struggling with substance use disorder, it’s easy to see only the label of “addict” and allow that to define their identity. Instead, shifting the narrative to focus on labels like “friend,” “neighbor,” “sister,” “brother,” highlights the humanity of the person instead of the disorder—and speaks volumes to a person in need of your addiction treatment center.
3. Share Stories
Stories have power—use them! Emphasize the human element of recovery by creating narratives around your successful patients. People want to hear about others’ journeys to recovery and are often very moved by hearing someone speak frankly about something so personal.
Include testimonials on your website and social media pages, but be sure to comply with all HIPAA rules.
4. Emphasize Privacy
Despite your best efforts to diffuse stigma, there will always be clients hesitant to seek treatment because of their shame. Include information about telehealth and other more discreet treatment options for those who place a high value on their privacy.
Stop letting stigma get in the way of reaching patients who need you. Dreamscape Marketing can help you craft a digital marketing strategy that reaches through the cloud of stigma to speak directly to the people who need you and your program the most. Contact us at 888.307.7304 to get started.
For a list of references, please contact us.