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What is the Stigma Attached to Sobriety?

on Tuesday, 24 March 2015. Posted in Breaking News

Our society has many ideas about what addiction and recovery is supposed to look like, with many people holding on to misperceptions and stereotypes of recovering addicts that can easily create a sense of shame and misunderstanding.

People who have not have a similar experience of recovery will not understand the journey you have gone through, and may respond with pity, condescension, or jumping to conclusions that you live a "boring" life.

Many people in recovery feel like they are misunderstood judged by others, but learning where stigmas and unfair stereotypes come from can be an important way to face them, remaining confident that your quest for sobriety should not have any shame attached to it.

Admitting there was a problem

Addiction is fueled by denial. Many people have an image in their minds of what an addict looks like, as someone destitute, incapable of functioning in the world, or completely out of control. We comfort ourselves with these images, telling ourselves that our problems are "not that bad."

Thus, when we admit to people that we had problems with addiction, they bring up these images of what they think an addict looks like. Because they think of you as "normal," they may have a hard time reconciling these images with what they know about you.

This may result in judgmental attitudes, or by people assuming that addiction is only an issue of will power. Or, they might be confused, underestimating the extent of a problem they are incapable of seeing.

Fear of change

Some of the hardest responses you may receive are from friends with whom you used to drink or use drugs, and no longer do. People may feel you are "no longer fun," because you don't choose enjoy yourself in the way you used to. In particular, people who make alcohol or drug use a big part of their lives may feel judged by your decision to pursue sobriety, that it's an indictment on their behavior.

You may have to reassure people that you respect their decision just as you expect them to respect yours. Other people may care about wanting to maintain the relationship, and may worry that your lifestyle change is going to make it harder to continue hanging out. They can benefit from a reassurance that you want to continue to remain friends, as long as you can evaluate it is possible for them to have a positive impact on your behavior.


Things in this category come from well-intentioned people but who make comments like "It must be so hard," or treat you only as an object of pity. It may be hard to deal with people who see you only as your addiction, and fail to realize that you are living a full life. To these people, you can simply say tell the truth, that there are hard moments, but that your sober life is also full of joyful moments, and that you wouldn't want to go back to a life of addiction.

Break stigma

One of the most effective ways to fight against this stigma is to find people who are willing to listen, and then honestly share your story with them. Stigma arises out of ignorance, and by telling the truth of your experience, you correct that ignorance, and can change they way people view your recovery into something grounded in truth.

You do not have to tell your story to everyone, but only those with whom you feel safe and have developed a trusting relationship. Many people also set up anonymous blogs, as another way in which your experience can be communicated to the rest of the world. One person at a time, it is possible to break this stigma, and help people see addicts in recovery as real individuals worthy of dignity and support.


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