The State of the Stigma

The fact is drug abuse has a stigma. It follows a person long after last use and into every facet of life. It has the potential to impact adversely all domains of life, such as employment, housing and social relationships.

and as we have seen recently , that stigma applies to the national stage as well. Regardless of where you are on the political spectrum, if you watched the first presidential debate, you might remember this key moment:

President Trump does something that many people who have struggled with substance abuse have encountered before.  He brings up Hunter Biden’s history of substance use in an effort to question his opponent’s ability to lead.

Presidential debates are about convincing potential voters who the better candidate is. As George Friedman, founder of Stratfor, writes, “debates test a candidate’s coolness under pressure and ability to articulate some thought at least vaguely connected to the question while convincing the viewers that he or she is both personable and serious.” Both candidates take turns trying to trip up the other, and sometimes personal matters are a casualty in this process.

But what’s so interesting about Trump’s deployment of Hunter Biden’s history is the mention of substance use. Trump is, as a presidential candidate and incumbent, trying to win the debate and election. By mentioning the history of substance use, he is attempting to cast a negative light on Joe Biden and his family. Part of what makes this so effective is it taps into a negative societal belief about people who struggle with substance abuse.

According to the Committee on the Science of Changing Behavioral Health Social Norms, “Public perceptions are also strongly influenced by social norms concerning the attribution of cause, or blame, for mental and substance use disorders, and the perceived dangerousness or unpredictability of people with these disorders.”

With the head figure of our society invoking the stigma of substance abuse as a debate strategy, we should ask ourselves what it means about the state of the stigma. How are our perceptions of people struggling with a mental illness playing a role in our daily decision making? In our vote?

It is up to voters to decide if Trump’s questions have merit, but for our purposes, it’s an excellent reminder that the stigma of substance abuse is still there. So whether you are a concerned parent, someone in the program, or the friend of someone with a substance use disorder , perhaps you’ll consider how you would respond in this scenario and the stigma at large.

Written by: Hunter Freeman

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