The Stigma of Drug Addiction Hampers Policy Changes in the UK

The Stigma of Drug Addiction Hampers Policy Changes in the UK

A recent report in the UK showed that drug abusers and even former users who are now in recovery from drug addiction are considered “dangerous, unpredictable and only having themselves to blame.”

The UK Drug Policy Commission believes that these stigmas attached to addiction make people less likely to seek treatment. They also would like people to stop publicly using the word “junkie” to refer to those with drug addiction.

The policy statement is part of a shift in UK policy toward helping addicts end their addiction rather than focus all resources on drug-related crime. If addicts do seek treatment, the hope is that society will begin to view this positively rather than as an indictment. Otherwise, those with drug addiction will fear retribution by employers or police – that the label “addict” will haunt them long after they get clean.

The report, “Sinning and Sinned Against: The Stigmatisation of Problem Drug Users,” was authored by Charlie Lloyd of York University. Lloyd believes that society’s views of the addict are misinformed: the public does not understand the complex nature of addiction and the effects it has on the user.

In the report Lloyd also criticizes what he sees as police attempts to humiliate drug users by searching them in public. He believes that as long as society has such disparaging views of those with addiction, they will not be successful in getting people into treatment and on the road to recovery.

The biggest obstacle to treatment is the overall attitude that drug addicts have only themselves to blame for their addiction. This attitude does not consider the profound grip that addiction has on users and the changes that occur in the brain after prolonged drug use; it does not consider genetic and childhood influences that predispose some people to addiction. It certainly shows a lack of understanding of how neurotransmitters are impacted by drug use and how cravings make it impossible to simply stop on their own.

Lloyd suggests a more compassionate approach and attitude so that drug users will feel more comfortable reaching out for help and accepting treatment.

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