Battling the stigma of drug addiction in college


The Silenced Problem of Drug Addiction

Shamed girl - drug addiction stigma.

For many people, just the word ‘addict’ conjures up a social taboo. It is common to consider drug addiction as a moral failure to be shunned rather than a disease to be treated. Due to the enormous amount of criminal activity, homelessness and lack of self-care that goes along with drug use, the stigma comes from generations of teaching that drugs are bad and therefore the people who use them are bad.

The shame of drug addiction is so strong that people will go great lengths to hide their disease and might not get the help they need. Battling drug addiction at home is hard enough, but what about doing it in college – a place where students make up one of the largest group of drug abusers nationwide, while the accounts of tragedies related to addiction are often swept under the rug to protect the college’s reputation?

Drug Addiction From Too Much Stress to Handle in College

Students are twice more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol than those who don’t attend college,
according to an addiction treatment center that specializes in health and mental health-related topics.

Being a college student myself, this statistic doesn’t surprise me. Leaving home for the first time and then suddenly facing the high demands of coursework, competitiveness in internships and the reality of financial restrains instigates students to use stimulants to feel less tired while getting little or no sleep.

I askTeens smoking and drinking... drug addictioned few Boston University students to get their opinion on this topic.

Qifan Wang, a graduate BU student in College of Communication, believes that the primary reason students turn to drugs is the struggle to adapt to the independent life.

“Leaving home for the first time and then facing the huge course load all at once is definitely one way to ensure a stressful beginning of the [academic] year,” said Wang. “I have never tried any drugs that would keep me up all night, but I would totally understand students who do.”

Although Wang said that she has never consumed any illegal drugs while studying at BU, she admitted that she was once pressured to try psilocybin a.k.a. ‘magic’ mushrooms in Amsterdam, where they are legally available for sale for people who are at least 18 years-old.

“I traveled to Amsterdam with a friend, and since the drugs are legal in this partof Europe, she has been talking about trying it for years,” said Wang. “Honestly, I was kinda nervous when she bought that box of mushrooms, but she wouldn’t quit asking me to try it with her until I agreed.”

Even though Wang is confident in her decision to never abuse drugs in the future, she admitted that she would try the hallucinogenic drug again if she were with her friends.

“I definitely did not get addicted to it, but I think that if I were in a group of friends, I would do it again because I hate feeling left out.”

“Stop Talking ‘Dirty’” – No More Addiction Shaming!

After learning about the #NoMoreShame campaign, which is targeted to break the stigma attached to addiction, I wanted to learn what steps the BU community can take to create a more supportive atmosphere to normalize the treatment.

I talked to Richard Saitz, a professor at the Boston University School of Medicine to get his opinion on this topic. Saitz believes that the best way to reduce the stigma of addiction in college is to “stop talking ‘dirty,’” meaning to change the language around the drug use.

“The words we use matter,” said Saitz. “The terminology we usually use to describe addiction largely contributes to the stigma. For instance, the word “abuser” implies willful misconduct or moral problem rather than a genetic disease that needs to be treated.”

Saitz suggested that instead of using terminology such as “addict, abuser, clean, dirty, user,” we should consider the terms “addiction, addiction free, addiction survivor, addictive disorder,” which contribute to reducing stigma and stereotyping.

The Truth of Drug Addiction

Changing our language is a great way to support against the stigma.

Addiction is stigmatizePeople fighting drug addiction holding hands with hope.d simply because people don’t understand addiction. As a result, we label a person by his or her illness rather than the personality. We have to start looking at the drug as well as any addiction differently. We have to start addressing it differently. We need to take the label off of the addiction because there is so much more to a person than his or her medical record.


Hung Tran posted on April 25, 2017 at 11:35 am

Good read! Not many people are exposed to this subject and won’t even think twice about what’s really going behind someone who is struggling with this problem. Experts are saying stigma of addiction is almost as bad as the drug epidemic itself!

Chris Alan posted on April 25, 2017 at 12:51 pm

It’s true – addiction is so stigmatized and my friends who are truly struggling don’t get enough empathy. Instead of being treated like they are sick, they get treated like they are the lowest rung of society. Addicts are never going to get as much help as they should if society’s perception continues this way.

Sara posted on April 25, 2017 at 1:49 pm

Great points. Language matters; the words we use to describe things carry emotional influence. Compassion is key to solving this problem. It’s easy to judge, but you don’t know what someone else is going through.

Horace Rumpole posted on April 25, 2017 at 1:57 pm

I agree that we shouldn’t shame those who have struggled with addiction, but I worry that we might send the wrong message on the other end of the spectrum.

“It is common to consider drug addiction as a moral failure to be shunned rather than a disease to be treated.” That can be read to mean that addiciton is just a disease that people contract and they have no role in that process. If we diminish accountability and “remove the stigma,” aren’t we just normalizing addiction and thereby drug usage? The stigma exists to dissuade people from using drugs.

Steve Nash posted on April 25, 2017 at 2:40 pm

good ready, I personally have never fell down the rabbit hole, but know may who have. Word shaming is never a good thing, even I know that never being on the receiving end.

Jessica posted on April 25, 2017 at 2:58 pm

It is important to be open and communicate with those you love about these types of life challenges. People who struggle with addiction need a helping hand, not someone to judge them or knock them down further.

Ashton posted on April 25, 2017 at 3:01 pm

It is sad how many teens are actually afraid to try drugs and alcohol, but end up trying them anyways due to peer pressure. It seems like when teens are grouped together, morals go out the window and it turns into a competition of who can be the “coolest”. We need to let teens know that it is okay to be the person who stands up against (or at least disassociates themselves with) the problem!

Chris Dub posted on April 26, 2017 at 3:04 pm

They should just make all drugs legal and focus on treating people who have problems. It’s not like criminalizing and shaming has been effective more and younger people are on drugs now

Alice posted on June 13, 2017 at 3:31 pm

It’s crazy how many college students are doing drugs to that extent these days, but the ease of obtaining them is now greater than ever. Hopefully more people get educated on its effects and seek help!

Cal posted on June 14, 2017 at 4:42 pm

Nice article. We really do need to bring to light the nature of drug addiction, and the cyclic nature of its entrapment. I enjoyed the part about the psilocybin mushrooms. I didn’t know they were legal in Amsterdam!

Rachel posted on June 15, 2017 at 12:40 pm

Nice article! It’s hard to talk about drug addiction but it’s so important or everyone to become educated about it. Hopefully more people become less fearful about broaching the subject.

Rachel posted on June 15, 2017 at 12:41 pm

Nice article! It’s hard to talk about drug addiction but it’s so important or everyone to become educated about it. However, it’s up to college students themselves to decide to stop and it’s hard with so many bad influences out there.

Daniel Dowson posted on June 15, 2017 at 4:36 pm

Its too true that there is a large social taboo when the word ‘addict; is mentioned. Hopefully this can change and the shame that is felt can be lost and a path to sobriety started!

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