Most people have a picture in their mind of what an addict looks like. This could have been created because of their assumption that addiction is something that affects bad or weak individuals. They may believe that addicts are unemployed, homeless or social deviants who choose to drink or take drugs rather than live a normal life with a job, good home and a family.
It is stereotyping like this that often results in those with addiction from failing to get the help they need to overcome their illnesses. With so many people believing that addicts are those who skulk about in dark alleyways taking drugs or drinking from brown paper bags, it is hardly surprising that those who are affected are reluctant to admit it.
Addiction is an Illness
The reality of addiction is that most of those affected are similar to everyone else. They have families and jobs and they socialise with their friends at the weekend. However, they are struggling to cope with the weight of a destructive illness, and some do not even realise that they have crossed the line from habitual user to addict.
It is true that some individuals can manage their addictions better than others can. Some do end up homeless and living on the streets because their lives spiral out of control and they simply cannot get their lives back on track, no matter how hard they try. For those that become deeply entrenched in their addiction, the stereotypical picture of an addict is something they can relate to. Nevertheless, the truth is that most people with an addiction do not end up living like this. In fact, addiction is an illness that affects people regardless of whether they live in a mansion or whether they are living in a box on the street. It does not discriminate between man and woman, rich and poor, old or young.
The Danger of Stereotyping Addicts
Stereotyping individuals with addiction leads to a number of consequences. In terms of seeking help, many of the people who suffer from addiction will refuse because they will not see themselves as fitting in with the picture of what an addict is.
They will have an opinion of what addiction looks like and, if they do not fit in with that, then surely they cannot be an addict. They may also be ashamed or embarrassed to admit that they have a problem for fear of what others will think of them.
Because some people have such a negative view of addiction, it can lead to discriminatory behaviour towards those affected. For example, a recovering drug addict or alcoholic may find it very difficult to gain employment because they are viewed as someone with a poor moral character.
Common Stereotypes Related to Addiction
Below are a few examples of how people perceive those with addiction:
- They drink alcohol from brown paper bags
- They stumble about all day drunk
- They are unemployed
- They are violent or aggressive
- They are homeless
- They will be estranged from their family members
- They are often found passed out on the streets
- They wear dirty clothing and do not wash
- They are older than forty
- They steal from family or friends
- They are unable to hold down a job
- They cannot maintain a relationship
- They have no sex drive
- They are known to police or have a criminal history
- They live in squats with other addicts
- They are involved with criminal gangs.
Some addicts themselves have these views of what an addict is. And because they do not fit the stereotype, they will not get the help they need. They may also find that their friends and families do not put pressure on them to get help because they too believe that their addicted loved one could not possibly have an addiction if they do not fit the stereotype above.