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Fighting Addiction Stigma in the Workplace

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Stigma is an issue with many mental and physical health conditions. While some changes have occurred to de-stigmatize certain diseases, little progress has been made in removing the stigma around addiction. After leaving treatment, where other clients and mental health care practitioners have a grasp of addiction as a disease, it can be particularly challenging to re-enter the workplace. However, it helps to learn about common addiction misconceptions and gain tools to manage those attitudes in the workplace. 

Common Addiction Stigmas in the Workplace

It is well-documented that addiction is a complex disease that is influenced by many factors. However, individuals with addiction are commonly blamed for their disease. In the workplace, this can be particularly common due to the lack of education and understanding about addiction. The attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors of coworkers can communicate to individuals struggling with substance use disorder (SUD) that they are at fault for their issue. Stigma can be communicated in many ways, ranging from lack of inclusion to physical violence. 

Another commonly found stigma is that addiction makes people dangerous and unpredictable. A survey in 2011 found that those with substance abuse issues were considered more dangerous than those with schizophrenia or depression. Assuming that those with addiction are dangerous often results in feelings of fear and anxiety, which can result in negative behaviors toward those with SUD. 

The Impact of Workplace Stigma 

Regardless of the type of behavior, stigma can be hugely impactful. Stigma can produce many harmful results, including:

  • Reluctance to seek treatment 
  • Resistance to accepting addiction as a disease
  • Feelings of shame
  • Fear or repercussions from others
  • Sense of isolation 
  • Feeling unable to find or get support 
  • Increased stress

On an emotional level, stigma can be incredibly challenging to manage. It can also increase the risk of relapse due to a lack of necessary treatment and increased feelings of shame. That’s why learning how to fight stigma at work is incredibly important. 

Tools to Fight Stigma in the Workplace

Experiencing discrimination for addiction makes recovery challenging; however, some tools can help. Below we will outline options that may benefit recovering individuals in the workplace. 

Straightforward Communication

Learning to educate others in the workplace about SUD can help decrease stigma. An improved understanding of addiction decreases negative attitudes toward it. Individuals can help their coworkers see addiction for what it truly is: a disease that can impact individuals from many walks of life. However, every individual has different social situations at work.

Some people may feel safe and confident discussing their sobriety with their whole team. However, others may not be ready or feel comfortable speaking with coworkers at all. While educating others can help decrease stigma, the most important aspect is to choose the best path for each individual. 

It can be challenging to communicate directly with coworkers; however, it can start with just one person. If someone has a single coworker whom they trust, they can start with them. They might discuss addiction as a disease in general, their experience with treatment, or how it feels to be sober.

Another option would be to speak with one’s boss or the human resources (HR) department if one is experiencing discrimination. While these individuals may not be able to directly address the stigma, they do have access to resources that can help. 

Self-Acceptance

Denial is a huge barrier to addiction recovery. Being able to accept one’s addiction can help one fight stigma in the workplace. Recognizing that addiction is a disease that requires professional treatment can help people to see the truth beyond stigma. While others may not accept or understand addiction, those who have been through it can. When these individuals accept themselves, they are more likely to be able to find treatment and manage their recovery. While this looks different for each individual, the ability to explore and manage the disease of addiction is a foundation for maintaining sobriety. 

Self-Care

Stigma is unfortunately very common in the workplace. Being able to take care of oneself, mentally and physically, is very important for general mental health. However, it is even more important when dealing with the stigma against addiction. Taking care of oneself can help individuals build self-esteem.

Individuals do not have to feel any certain way to practice self-care; the act of self-care by itself has been shown to improve self-esteem. As people increase their self-esteem, it can be easier to deal with stigmas around addiction, knowing that they are not to blame and decreasing feelings of shame. 

Peer Support

There are many ways to find peer support, including alumni programs at recovery centers or peer support groups like alcoholics anonymous (AA). These groups can help improve social connection and decrease the risk of isolation during recovery. Peer support is particularly helpful because others are likely experiencing similar issues with stigma in their lives and at work. Being able to speak openly about one’s experiences, and how one feels, and brainstorm solutions can help individuals feel understood. They can find others who can provide new possibilities for managing the stigma around addiction recovery. 

Addiction is a serious disease that is commonly misunderstood, leading to harmful stigmas in the workplace. The judgments of others increase the risk of relapse, prevent you from getting help, and add stress to your work life. Learning tools to manage workplace stigma can help, and often this begins during treatment. At Pacific Sands Recovery Center, we offer individualized care for working professionals. We provide support and care that helps you build skills to deal with workplace stress. If you or your loved one needs help recovering from addiction, we can help. Start today and call us at (714) 492-1119 to learn more about our recovery programs for working professionals. 

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