The American Psychological Association defines stigma as “the negative social attitude attached to a characteristic of an individual that may be regarded as a mental, physical, or social deficiency.”

People have a tendency to be afraid of what they don’t understand. And there is a lot of misunderstanding when it comes to those who are dealing with substance misuse and mental health challenges. Negative attitudes evolve from reluctance or resistance to understand a situation others are going through. And it’s that lack of understanding that leads to describing those who seem different with labels which creates a world of stigma for those who struggle.

Language is important. The words we chose to use to describe others have the power to hurt. They can create a stigma around what for some is the experience of their everyday life. When we buy into the labels, the words used to identify those who are struggling, it can be hard not to accept what we hear. But just because an opinion has a label doesn’t make it the truth. And quite often it is no more than a term applied to describe something the user doesn’t understand.

In an article for Psychology Today, Drs. Carrie Wilkens, Jeffrey Foote and Ken Carpenter of CMC: Center for Motivation & Change write: “You also don’t have to dig very deep to hear the negative connotations of these words in many people’s minds (e.g., lazy, weak-willed, failing moral compass, diseased). The easiest way to confirm this for yourself is to listen to the tone of voice most people use when they refer to someone as an addict. More often than not, there is a tone freighted with denigration or suspicion.”

At one time or another we may all have experienced name calling from frightened bullies who label others because they either don’t, or don’t want to, understand who we are. And more often than not that label is assigned because the person who uses it needs a way to describe the situations of others to themselves in order for them to make themselves feel better.

The stigma around substance misuse and mental health is very real and prevalent in society at large. You can hear it all around you, on the news, on the street, online. It shows up as jokes that are generalized assumptions about how someone appears or acts or slang words that conjure up negative connotations. You can hear it so much that those behaviors are bad, or weak, or wrong you may start to believe it.

We can change that societal stigma and the best place to start that work is within ourselves. Take name calling out of your lexicon. Dismiss it from others and don’t do it yourself. By buying into what society labels as some sort of moral failing we are doing a disservice to all those who strive to make a better life for themselves. Rather than using derogatory labeling, use compassion when speaking of others. Lifting the stigma that surrounds substance misuse and mental health starts with you.


If you, someone you know or work with is experiencing societal stigmatization, The Recovery Coach NY provides Mental Health Support & Coaching for individuals and families, Recovery Coaching, Sobriety & Mental Health Companionship and Case Management. For more information and additional services, go to our website.

The Recovery Coach NY has years of experience and a vast array of resources that can help those in need find the path to the life they deserve, filled with joy and purpose. We come with an empathetic ear and solution-oriented actions that can begin to bring the relief you and your loved one seek.

You can reach out to Cindy Feinberg, President of The Recovery Coach NY via:

Phone or text: 631-921-4085


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