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Addiction Stereotypes Hide the Reality


The media has done a good job of making us more aware about the existence of addiction problems in society. This condition can lead to a great deal of suffering for everyone involved, and the number of people developing these addiction-related problems is increasing. It is important that there is plenty of available information about substance abuse problems so that people can get the help they need. One of the problems about the way that addiction has been portrayed in the media is that it has led to people associating addiction with stereotypes. This can be problematic for a number of reasons.

Addiction Stereotypes

The portrayal of addiction in the media means that many will have a picture in their mind of what it means to be an addict. They will have a set of criteria by which they will label some people as being either drug addicts or alcoholics. Therefore, in the case of alcoholism the stereotype will be:

  • drinks first thing in the morning
  • poor personal hygiene and grooming
  • drink cheap spirits or possibly even things like industrial spirits
  • become very aggressive when drunk
  • unable to hold down a job
  • usually be living on the streets
  • may always slur their words
  • be estranged from their family.

The stereotype of the person addicted to drugs will usually include:

  • involved in crime to support their habit
  • probably have stolen money from their family and be estranged from them
  • look a mess – smell bad and wear dirty clothing
  • be unemployed
  • live in a squat with other drug users
  • have a criminal record
  • buy drugs in back alleys from violent criminals
  • it is easy to tell when somebody is addicted to drugs
  • be mentally unstable.

Reality of Addiction

Many addicts will match the stereotype to high degree. However, there are also people who do not fit this stereotype at all. The reality of addiction is that it can also occur in people who:

  • are outwardly doing well in life
  • have a loving family
  • never had any legal problems
  • only ever use prescription drugs
  • never drink in the morning
  • wear nice clothes and have impeccable personal hygiene habits
  • live in fancy house
  • do really well in their career
  • appear to be successful and confident to outsiders
  • only ever drink the best quality alcoholic drinks
  • are good at hiding the fact that they are drunk or high
  • are respected members of their community.

It is possible for people to be addicted to alcohol or drugs and still fit the above characteristics.

Dangers of Addiction Stereotypes

Stereotypes can be helpful because they help us make sense of the world. For example, we can use stereotypes to make decisions when we are in a situation where we have very little information. The addiction stereotypes can also be dangerous for a number of reasons including those listed below.

  • Those who are dealing with addiction problems can use the stereotype as evidence that they do not really have a problem.
  • It means that people who are struggling with this type of condition can go unnoticed.
  • It can mean that family and friends will try to talk the person out of getting help for their problems – they will try to reassure the individual that they are not an addict because they do not fit the stereotype.
  • It can mean that people are afraid to admit that they have a problem because they are worried that it will damage their reputation.
  • It means the individual can endure a great deal of shame because of their addiction.
  • Other people may use the stereotype to tarnish the reputation of the person dealing with an addiction problem.
  • The fact that the stereotype of addiction in the media can be so negative means that it can have a dehumanising effect.
  • Addiction is often portrayed as a hopeless situation, meaning that people become less willing to help.

Beyond the Addiction Stereotype

It is vital that people are able to see beyond the addiction stereotype. The key to this is education. There are now many people from different backgrounds stepping forward to share their experiences. This is a great help because it will encourage those who do not fit the usual stereotype to consider getting help for their problems. It also means that those who do get help feel less stigmatised because of their previous problems with alcohol and drugs.

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