Society’s Perception of Addiction: Addicts Have a Moral Failing

A new Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study suggests that people are significantly more likely to have negative attitudes toward those dealing with drug addiction than those with mental illness. In addition, people generally do not support insurance, housing, and employment policies that benefit those dependent on drugs.

A web-based national survey compared attitudes about stigma, discrimination, treatment effectiveness, and support for drug addiction and mental illness. The study data showed that a majority of people held significantly more negative views toward persons with drug addiction.

Respondents were overwhelmingly unwilling to have a person with drug addiction marry into their family or work closely with them. Furthermore, they were more willing to accept discriminatory practices against persons with drug addiction, more skeptical about the effectiveness of treatment, and more likely to oppose policies aimed at helping addicts.

Study leader Colleen L. Barry, an associate professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the School of Public Health claimed:

“While drug addiction and mental illness are both chronic, treatable health conditions, the American public is more likely to think of addiction as a moral failing than a medical condition. In recent years, it has become more socially acceptable to talk publicly about one’s struggles with mental illness. But with addiction, the feeling is that the addict is a bad or weak person, especially because much drug use is illegal.”

The problem concerning drug abuse is that it is also often symptomatic of mental illness. People addicted to drugs are roughly twice as likely to suffer from mood and anxiety disorders as the general population. Past research shows that addiction, whether it is to drugs or alcohol, significantly changes a person’s brain, which results in compulsive behaviors that weaken a person’s self-control. People can and do successfully overcome addiction with effort.

Expanded public education to change our negative opinions and attitudes about addiction is a first step.  It is important to know and understand that addiction affects people of all ages and socioeconomic groups. Recognition of this growing problem may help more addicts get the support and treatment they need to start the path to recovery.



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