Redefining Addiction Stereotypes

The word addict is associated with a number of different negative stereotypes. Like all stereotypes, the beliefs are generally negative and can significantly impact how individuals interact with one another. There is a new face of addiction, what is looks like isn’t so black and white. This article will address common stereotypes, discuss the functional addict, and hopefully provide insight on to identify and address this serious issue.

Common Addiction Stereotypes

When someone hears the word addict, there is often an immediate association with a number of different negative stereotypes. This is particularly type of people who have had little experience with individuals suffering from addiction. The stereotypical characteristics often differ depending on whether the individual is addicted to alcohol or drugs.

The Stereotypical Image of the Alcoholic:

– A person who drinks cheap liquor – often out of a brown paper bag.

– A person who drinks everyday and is rarely sober.

– They begin drinking first thing in the morning.

– They are unable to hold down a job, attend school, or function normally.

– They become aggressive and violent when intoxicated.

– They are estranged from friends and family.

– They have poor hygiene.

– They are homeless or live in poverty.

– They came from poor families or were victims of abuse.

– They are stereotypically middle aged and male

The Stereotypical Image of the Drug Addict:

– They have a criminal history and have frequent contact with law enforcement.

– Live and/or spend time in poor areas.

– They steal money from friends and family.

– They are stereotypically younger than alcoholics.

– They dress in poor clothing and have poor hygiene.

– They are unable to hold down jobs, attend school, or function normally.

– They are viewed as a “low life”.

The Real Face of Addiction

People of any age, sex or economic status can become addicted to drugs or alcohol. The stereotypes associated with addiction make it difficult to address and identify an individual who is suffering from the disease of addiction. A perfect example, is the heroin addict. One typical stereotype of a heroin addict is a “dirty junkie”. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, many heroin addicts come from affluent families and turned to heroin after becoming addicted to prescription opioids. Addiction has become a mainstream problem. It is not just relegated to one socio-economic stratus. Heroin use is seen in suburban areas. Many people turn to heroin after becoming addiction to prescription pain medications. Heroin is a cheaper alternative to prescription drugs. The face of addiction should no longer be associated with negative stereotypes. People from all walks of life can become addicted to drugs and alcohol. While some addicts are unable to function normally in everyday life, others appear on the outside to be relatively normal. What is a functioning addict?

What is a Functioning Addict?

A functioning addict is someone that is able function in everyday life while engaging in his or her addiction. They are often able to hold a job, make advancements in their career, maintain a household or care for their children. While their addiction may go unnoticed for longer periods of time, the threat to their safety and the safety of those around them remain a serious issue. The functioning addict is often in denial about their addiction and rationalizes their behavior due to their ability to “function” in different areas of their life. Their drug or alcohol addiction is just as serious as an addict who is unable to function in everyday life.

When most people think of an addict they think of someone whose life has fallen apart. A common misconception about addicts is that they are homeless, unable to hold down a job, or have a criminal record. A functioning addict may be a student, a teacher, a nurse or even a doctor. While their addiction may not be overtly recognizable, they are at great risk. It is important for loved ones to be able to identify the functioning addict in order to successfully intervene and provide the help that is so desperately needed.

Signs of a Functioning Addict

  • Denial: due to lack of serious negative consequences and ability to maintain a sense of normalcy in everyday life, the functioning addict often denies that they have a problem with substance abuse. Denial makes receiving and asking for help challenging.
  • Double-life: from the outside, the functioning addict appears to lead a healthy and normal life. However, in order to feed their addiction they create a complicated double life. This can cause great emotional distress. Concealing ones addiction is both difficult and emotionally draining.
  • Rationalization: the functioning addict rationalizes their behavior and often makes excuses to hide the problems they are experiencing due to their addiction. As time goes on this becomes more challenging.
  • Abnormal behavior: a functioning addict works to maintain a sense of normalcy. While engaging in their addiction their behavior will change. These abnormal behaviors may look nothing like the functioning addict in their normal state. This uncharacteristic behavior may lead to problems with relationships at work and at home.

Ignoring the Problem

It is imperative that people no longer hold the stereotypes so commonly associated with addiction. Someone suffering from addiction may be a straight A student or even an athlete. Regardless of what the outside appearance may appear to be, addiction must be addressed. It is important to understand that the consequences of addiction vary among addicts. Some addicts may have severe consequences related to their addiction; poor academic performance, losing the support of loved ones and contact with police. Other addicts are able to maintain a sense of normalcy while suffering from addiction. Regardless of the apparent consequences, addiction is a serious and progressive disease. Someone suffering from addiction will continue to unravel as the abuse continues

One of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal when it comes to addressing these stigmas is sharing our own stories of addiction and recovery. If you have a personal story to share, please leave it in the comments section below!

Last Updated on August 7, 2023


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