The stigma around drug and alcohol addiction is, for many, an insurmountable hurdle on the journey to sobriety.
While more than 20 million people are dealing with a substance use disorder, the stigma around addiction remains pervasive. According to a study by non-profit Shatterproof and insurance company The Hartford, 75% do not think addiction is a chronic disease and 53% believe addiction is caused by “bad character.”
These misconceptions have dangerous consequences: 46% of those with substance use disorders say these stigmas make them feel ashamed of their addiction, the study found. Just 10% of people with an addiction actually seek out care.
Many people with substance use disorders suffer in silence because of the fear they have of being ostracized and excluded. Unfortunately, their fears are not unfounded: the Shatterproof survey found 65% of people would not want to work with someone who has a substance use disorder.
“The biggest challenge is that people don’t disclose when they’re struggling,” says Dr. Dan Jolivet, workplace possibilities practice consultant at insurance company, The Standard. “There’s the fear that people will have negative perceptions of them. People worry that their coworkers will talk about them behind their backs or they’ll be fired just for having a substance use issue.”
For those who do seek help, workplace attitudes are still limiting to their success. The Shatterproof survey found that 30% of people would not want to work with someone in recovery, and 34% are unwilling to hire a person undergoing treatment for a substance use disorder.
To combat stigma, employees are looking for employers to play a bigger role in helping people get the help they need. Eighty-seven percent believed employers should provide opportunities to seek treatment while remaining employed, according to Shatterproof.
Additionally, education around addiction, benefits and policies that embrace the unique needs of people with substance use, and successful return-to-work programs can all help struggling individuals get help and get healthy.
“The work to end addiction stigma is far from over,” Christopher Swift, CEO of The Hartford, said in the release. “Efforts involving all levels of government, the business community, and neighborhood organizations are necessary to end the ongoing addiction crisis, create open and inclusive cultures, and break down the stigma that impedes human achievement.”