We Need to Stop Stigmatizing Substance Abuse

It’s about time we got real with our mental health. The stressful college environment can be detrimental to mental health, making it all too easy to turn to substances to cope. Alcohol and drugs are viewed as a normalized part of the college routine, rather than a signal of a deeper health issue.

A common misconception is that once you graduate from college bars and fraternity parties, you’ll escape the world of binge drinking and people will move on with their mature, responsible adult lives. Unfortunately, this is not necessarily the case. Substance abuse is a very real problem, and according to a new study, it’s more prevalent than we may assume.

Approximately 17 out of every 100 people are diagnosed with an alcohol-based substance use disorder each year. Only two of those people receive treatment for their diagnoses – meaning they are living with a known medical issue without any form of help.
It’s about time we got real with our mental health. The stressful college environment can be detrimental to mental health, making it all too easy to turn to substances to cope. Alcohol and drugs are viewed as a normalized part of the college routine, rather than a signal of a deeper health issue.

A common misconception is that once you graduate from college bars and fraternity parties, you’ll escape the world of binge drinking and people will move on with their mature, responsible adult lives. Unfortunately, this is not necessarily the case. Substance abuse is a very real problem, and according to a new study, it’s more prevalent than we may assume.

Approximately 17 out of every 100 people are diagnosed with an alcohol-based substance use disorder each year. Only two of those people receive treatment for their diagnoses – meaning they are living with a known medical issue without any form of help.

The issue here is not that there are no options for treatment. In fact, there are countless resources people can turn to if sought out. The issue lies on a much deeper level, and we are all contributing to it – stigma.

What is Stigma?

Over time, society has manufactured perception of the perfect life, deeming certain behaviors and actions wrong or shameful. This perception is reinforced by each and every individual that shares those beliefs.

More often than not, this is done unintentionally, which makes it even harder to combat. You probably don’t think that you judge people for their substance abuse or mental health disorders, but these judgements are engrained so deep in your subconscious that it’s easy to ignore.

These biases can be shown through the way we view alcohol abuse. For a college student, binge drinking is completely normal, and almost a symbol of status. On the other hand, an older professional adult participating in the same behaviors would be viewed as abnormal and problematic – even though the two people are performing precisely the same actions, just at different times in their lives.

What Can We Do About It?

Fighting stigma is one of the biggest challenges to our society due to its large scale. Everyone possesses some form of stigma and perceptions, and getting everyone to agree or change their views is no easy task.

However, there are definite steps we can take to make the world a better place for future generations. In recent years, mental health has stepped into the public light to become a discussable topic, rather than a taboo conversation as it has been historically regarded.

That’s a major first step. If we can’t talk about mental health and substance abuse, we certainly can not change the way it’s viewed or treated. To take this further, individuals should be encouraged to recognize their own perceptions. Simply knowing you have your own biases and judgements can work wonders in eliminating them.

Working together to reduce stigma is important not only for the greater good of society, but also for the individuals currently battling disorders. Ensuring that they feel comfortable enough to step out of the shadows will allow them to seek the treatment they deserve.
The issue here is not that there are no options for treatment. In fact, there are countless resources people can turn to if sought out. The issue lies on a much deeper level, and we are all contributing to it – stigma.

What is Stigma?

Over time, society has manufactured a perception of the perfect life, deeming certain behaviors and actions wrong or shameful. This perception is reinforced by each and every individual that shares those beliefs.

More often than not, this is done unintentionally, which makes it even harder to combat. You probably don’t think that you judge people for their substance abuse or mental health disorders, but these judgements are engrained so deep in your subconscious that it’s easy to ignore.

These biases can be shown through the way we view alcohol abuse. For a college student, binge drinking is completely normal, and almost a symbol of status. On the other hand, an older professional adult participating in the same behaviors would be viewed as abnormal and problematic – even though the two people are performing precisely the same actions, just at different times in their lives.

What Can We Do About It?

Fighting stigma is one of the biggest challenges to our society due to its large scale. Everyone possesses some form of stigma and perceptions, and getting everyone to agree or change their views is no easy task.

However, there are definite steps we can take to make the world a better place for future generations. In recent years, mental health has stepped into the public light to become a discussable topic, rather than a taboo conversation as it has been historically regarded.

That’s a major first step. If we can’t talk about mental health and substance abuse, we certainly can not change the way it’s viewed or treated. To take this further, individuals should be encouraged to recognize their own perceptions. Simply knowing you have your own biases and judgements can work wonders in eliminating them.

Working together to reduce stigma is important not only for the greater good of society, but also for the individuals currently battling disorders. Ensuring that they feel comfortable enough to step out of the shadows will allow them to seek the treatment they deserve.

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