Turning the Compass to End Stigma of Addiction

Words for Change - Written by Speaker, Matt Hirschberg

Since addiction has been classified as a disease, there has been a huge push to end the stigma associated with substance use disorder. Communities are finally starting to realize that this disease doesn’t discriminate against any socioeconomic boundary, race, or religion. In fact according to the 2015 National Drug Threat Assessment (NDTA), drug overdose deaths have become the leading cause of injury death in the United States, surpassing the number of deaths by motor vehicles and by firearms every year since 2008. The stereotype that addiction is a moral failing which only affects low-income minorities needs to be broken. In order for us to achieve that we must start focusing on what we want and stop focusing on what we don’t want! The recovery community is ground zero for shifting this focus and in this article I’m going to provide three steps to begin turning the compass.  

1)  Stop calling ourselves addicts. While the first step of recovery is admitting we have a problem, why are we wearing that label for the rest of our lives? That would be like someone who is overweight losing 100lbs, but continuing to identify themselves as obese for the rest of their life. Sounds crazy, right? If we are going to end the stigma associated with addiction we have to change the way we speak about people in recovery. Instead of calling ourselves addicts let’s start using phrases like in recovery from substance use disorder. The power of the spoken word is a gift which we need to use to our advantage!

2) Create an identity outside of your addiction. All too often we spend so much energy focusing on what we don’t want, that we never think about what we DO want.  Practice setting SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely) that will move you toward becoming who you want to be now that you’re clean. Once you identify an action plan to achieving your goals, focus all your energy on moving forward toward the new and improved you. Stop letting your disease define who you are! 

3)  Increase your belief system. The first step to achieving more, is believing more. Most of us in recovery have been beat down for years, being told by others and ourselves that we aren’t good enough. Our belief system shapes our entire reality. Forgive yourself and never let your past dictate your future. Abolishing slavery and equal rights for women all started with someone believing it was possible!


I think most would agree that the biggest challenge in overcoming addiction isn’t getting clean, but staying clean. That’s because you don’t get over an addiction by stop using. You RECOVER by creating a life that is so much better than what you previously had - that you simply don’t want to use. The key to ending the stigma associated with addiction is for those of us in recovery to not just exist in a state of sobriety, but to live life more abundantly than anyone ever thought possible. I challenge each and every individual in recovery to help be part of the solution in ending the stigma associated with addiction. I know some of these steps maybe be challenging or uncomfortable, but if we want something different than what we’ve always gotten, we must do something different than we’ve always done.

If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.