Article in The New England Journal of Medicine Emphasizes the Importance of Ending Stigma in Addiction Treatment

person in a field raising their hands in triumph

An article by Dr. Nora D. Volkow, MD, Stigma and the Toll of Addiction, was published in The New England Journal of Medicine in April of 2020. The article emphasizes the negative effects that stigma can have on addiction treatment, and why confronting stigma is essential for reforming recovery practices.

Dr. Volkow is the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The organization’s summary of her publication states: “Dr. Volkow reminds us to promote awareness of addiction as a chronic relapsing and treatable brain disease. She notes that in addition to findings from research, common sense tells us that respect and compassion, with access to care, is more effective than stigmatizing and isolating patients for something they can no longer manage or control.”

Key points from Stigma and the Toll of Addiction include the existence of stigma due to the public perception of addiction not being seen as a disease, the effects that stigma has on addiction treatment and healthcare in general, and the importance of denouncing stigma in favor of a sympathetic approach to recovery. Dr. Volkow begins by explaining how addiction stigma is rooted in the belief that personal responsibility plays a role in addiction when in reality, it is an uncontrollable disorder. She addresses how stigma can lead to inadequate medical care and the social isolation of people who struggle with addiction, which in turn can cause increases in drug use. Her assertions are supported by anecdotal evidence as well as research-based experiments, including one study of rats that reinforced the effects that social isolation can have on addiction behaviors.

Stigma surrounding addiction is a multi-layered and interconnected issue that will take extensive work to address. One of the most effective ways to start, Dr. Volkow explains, is for “People working in health care [to] be made aware that stigmatizing people who are addicted to opioids or other drugs inflicts social pain that not only impedes the practice of medicine but also further entrenches the disorder.”

At Decision Point Center, we apply an approach of compassionate care and support with each person we treat. We’re not here to judge you or lecture you — we’re here to help. Contact us today to learn more about our addiction treatment programs.

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