Why Stigmatizing Addiction Is Hurting Your Child


It is easy-to-use language that stigmatizes addiction disorders despite your intentions; words matter. By continuing to engage in this language, you may actually harm your struggling child. If you want to help your child, they must know that you will always love and support them. Do not become your own worst enemy on this account.

What Stigmatizing Addiction Looks Like

Stigma is the belief that behavior is tied to a moral failing or laziness. This attitude is prevalent when dealing with those struggling with substance abuse disorders. It can be as simple as the way you address those suffering.

  • Using the phrase ‘addicts’ instead of ‘person with a substance abuse disorder.’
  • Using the terms ‘dirty’ and ‘clean’ regarding substance abuse.
  • Referring to a baby born exposed to drugs as a ‘crack baby’ or ‘addicted baby.’

These choices may sound innocuous, but it is genuinely harmful to those with addiction disorders. You boil their whole identity down to the substance tormenting their life, a substance regarded as dirty and evil. By language that separates a human from their addiction, you let them know that you still see a person beyond their struggle.

Unfortunately, it is human nature to put distance between us and the thing we are afraid of. If you suspect or fear your child is turning to drugs, you might start dehumanizing those with substance abuse disorders. If you only have suspicions, a part of your brain might say, “not my child,” and that attitude is easier when you don’t see those dealing with chemical dependency as people. Terms that dehumanize addiction include:

  • Junkie
  • Drunk
  • Lazy
  • Habit
  • User

You might be asking, why does it matter? My child needs to see that going down this path will lead to homelessness, poverty, and many health issues. Unbeknownst to you, this might do the opposite of helping your child.

Why Words Matter

Look at it from your child’s perspective. If they heard their parents dehumanizing those who are addicted and constantly hear ranting, such as:

  • Why are my tax dollars helping these filthy addicts?
  • They should just get clean!
  • They deserve to be on the street!
  • Can’t we just let them overdose? That will solve the problem!
  • I bet that junkie has AIDS, right?

Does this sound like a person you would go to for help? Even though you are not talking directly about your child, they still see themselves in your comments. All they hear is, “my parents are going to be angry that I failed them; I can never tell them.” The idea that you would be disgusted with them might cause your child to distance themselves and chase them further into the arms of negative influences. Shame and the need to numb the initial problems that caused them to turn to drugs may cause them to slip into addiction further.

At some point, you may ask yourself, why didn’t my kid come to me if they were in pain? You must let your child know they will always be safe coming to you for help. It takes courage to admit you have a problem for an adult, let alone a child. It can be a vulnerable and humiliating discussion predicated on your child trusting you.

If your child is struggling, we at Colorado Addiction Counseling are here to help! Schedule an evaluation today to get answers and give your child the specialized care they need. Call 720-379-6590