Facing Addiction Stigma in Orange County

google review Get Help Today

Addiction and substance use disorders are sensitive topics for most people for multiple reasons. If you or a loved one is struggling with a substance use disorder, you will most likely learn about it very quickly. Most people tend to skip over the fact that addiction is just like any other illness. That is, if they know addiction is an illness in the first place. Substance Use Disorders are both chronic and treatable. However, when addiction and overdose cause so much pain and damage, this information is hard to consider logically. Recovery Beach is here to help and encourage facing and battling addiction stigma in Orange County.

Substance Abuse in Orange County

Substance Use Disorder runs particularly rampant in Orange County, CA.

The California Healthcare Foundation estimates that 2.9 million Californians aged 12 and up (9% of all residents of the state) had a Substance Use Disorder in the past year. In Orange County specifically, as many as 19.2% of all adults in OC report needing help with mental, emotional, or substance abuse issues. This amounts to almost two out of every ten adults in Orange County, California.

So, if the problem is severe, why do we keep stigmatizing substance use?

A white woman smoking a cigarette
We must fight the stigmatization of substance abuse.

Addiction As an Illness, Not a Character Flaw

The person with substance use disorder feels a compulsion to keep using the substance. This means that they do not have as much control as a person without an addiction when it comes to deciding to use the substance. If they can avoid using said substance, they may resort to getting their usual high from a different, equally addictive substance.

What’s more, the brain of a person with an addiction changes. The amount of neurological change can vary depending on how long the person has had Substance Use Disorder and the substance itself. Some of the changes in the brain of a person with an addiction include:

  • Changes in the reward circuitry of the brain
  • Changes in neurotransmitter levels
  • Neuroplastic changes in the brain, which include alterations in its structure and function
  • If the SUD continues for the long term, permanent structural changes may occur
  • Impairments in executive function (having trouble completing tasks for your job or studies or doing chores around the house)
  • The brain’s stress response becomes dysregulated

Treating addiction like a character flaw or proof of insufficient willpower is like saying a person with a broken leg can’t walk because they don’t want to walk badly enough. What’s more, the stigma around addiction ends up causing real issues for the person who is considering seeking help. This, in turn, may become a problem for the community in Orange County.

A person of color who faces stigma for addiction in Orange County, CA, visits a mental health professional
Professional help is necessary when battling substance abuse.

What Are the Consequences of the Stigma Around Substance Use Disorders?

According to the NIH, the existing stigma around substance use and abuse has real consequences in the lives of people considering detox treatments and rehab. This, in turn, affects their loved ones and Orange County. This is so because society ends up operating with a high number of people who are struggling with addiction.

These are some of the consequences of the addiction stigma for people and the communities around them:

  1. Reluctance to seek help
  2. Lower quality of care
  3. Reduced access to healthcare
  4. Increased reliance on substances

Reluctance to Seek Help

People who need the help of experts may not seek it. According to the NIH, as many as 10.4% of the people who felt they needed treatment chose not to receive it. The reason why they refused to start treatment at one of the outpatient treatment centers in Orange County was the fear of being treated negatively by people in their communities.

Lower Quality of Care

People end up receiving poorer quality of care. Fear of disclosing SUD status to healthcare professionals had an impact on the quality of care people received. Paired with other factors, such as being a person of color or a member of the LGBTQ+ community, this can result in people getting poorer quality of care than they would have otherwise gotten. People of color report being treated far more harshly than their white counterparts for disclosing their Substance Use Disorder status.

Reduced Access to Health Programs

People have reduced access to the health programs they need. Some of the drugs used during the detox process for opioids (such as methadone and buprenorphine) also produce a high not unlike that of other addictive drugs. Because of the negative stigma around addiction and Substance Use Disorders, sometimes these treatments are not administered in the first place.

In other cases, syringe service programs, also known as needle exchanges, in place to prevent some illnesses linked to substance use, including HIV, hepatitis, and endocarditis, are underfunded by towns due to the prejudice around addiction. Needless to say, such programs are critical in areas where heroin addiction is prevalent.

Increased Reliance on Substances

People may react to the stigma by consuming substances even more. Condemning someone for an illness only leads them to turn to substances to cope with their feelings of anger and rejection. Because they believe they are “worthless,” they may as well stay as they are. They may also rely on alcohol to manage feelings or turn to harder drugs. At least, that is their reasoning, and it’s a harmful one.

A team of diverse people comes together to combat addiction stigma in Orange County
Fighting the addiction stigma in Orange County and everywhere else is necessary.

How Do We Combat Addiction Stigma in Orange County?

Mental health and other health professionals, as well as people with SUDs, their loved ones, and the public in general, can do a lot to combat the stigma around addiction. Some things anyone can do include:

  1. Using people-first language
  2. Researching state programs
  3. Addressing systemic discrimination
  4. Understanding SUDs as treatable illnesses

#1 Using Person-First Language

Instead of saying “addict” or “junkie,” consider using person-first language. Some examples of person-first language include “person with an addiction” and “person recovering from addiction.” Person-first language can help us remember that people are not their disorder.

Other terms to avoid include “habit,” referring to Substance Use. This is so because it implies an element of choice in the behavior. It would be best if you also avoided “clean” to say someone hasn’t had drugs in their systems for a long time. This term implies that people who are currently in detox or who have had a relapse are somehow “dirty.”

#2 Do Research on How State Programs Operate

We have mentioned that programs such as needle exchanges, which can save lives, are sometimes underfunded. This is so because of the stigma around substance abuse. Some of the people in charge of keeping these programs running may have the erroneous belief that funding these programs can encourage Substance Use.

Please do your research on how these programs are run now. Then, consider writing to your local representatives to provide funding. If enough citizens did this, this would be an issue that is taken far more seriously in Orange County.

#3 Address Systemic Discrimination in Your Everyday Life

People of color, pregnant people, LGBTQ+ people, and disabled people often get the short end of the stick when it comes to SUD treatment. One of the components of combatting addiction stigma is to address the discriminatory and oppressive systems that end up affecting these communities. This applies to both Substance Use and other areas. Read up on these issues and become the best ally and advocate you can be for members of these communities. 

At Recovery Beach, Orange County, we are committed to an intersectional approach to recovery. This is why we offer LGBTQ rehab, among other options.

#4 Understand SUDs are Treatable, Chronic Illnesses

Sometimes, the best way to help is to take the time to understand that Substance Use Disorders are illnesses like any other. They are treated in drug and alcohol detox centers, which are health institutions similar to regular hospitals. Take some time to educate yourself. Then, have conversations with those around you so they also come to terms with the facts. Once you have grasped the fact that they are chronic and treatable mental illnesses, do your best to educate others to reduce the stigma.

Facing Addiction Stigma in Orange County Together

Even though Substance Use Disorder affects as many as two out of ten adults in Orange County, we can do better as a community to address the issue. We should stop stigmatizing people with addiction. We should also stop ignoring the fact that it is a treatable condition. This is so because the addiction stigma in Orange County and beyond affects people and society at large. It affects them by preventing them from seeking care in the first place.

So, to combat addiction stigma in Orange County, everyone can do their part. Using person-first language, writing letters to your local representatives, becoming an advocate for people in your community who suffer from other forms of discrimination, and understanding SUDs as a chronic, treatable illness are only some of the approaches. But even the smallest step you take is a step in the right direction, so don’t hesitate to take it.

Get Help for Yourself or Your Loved One

Call Now: (855) 588-1422

sun logo

Our Team Is Standing By

100% Confidential, No Obligations

Most of our staff is in recovery themselves with real clean time, so we understand what you are going through. You CAN get sober, and we can help you.

Greg Goushian
Ethan Parry
Ethan Parry
dena valenzuela
Dena Valenzuela