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The Stigma Around Alcoholism: Why Some People Don’t Seek Help

The stigma of alcoholism is one of the reasons that many people dealing with addiction avoid opening up and seeking help.

Opening up about your personal struggles can be difficult at the best of times – but can be even harder when there is a stigma associated with your problem.

However, alcoholism is a disease. It is not a choice – people do not become alcoholics on purpose – but many people still have this false belief.

Alcohol Use Disorder Explained

Alcohol use disorder is a medical term used to describe different conditions associated with excessive alcohol use. Alcohol use disorders can vary in severity, ranging from mild to moderate to severe.

Alcohol abuse is considered to be a milder form of alcohol use disorder (AUD), and alcohol dependence is on the severe end of the spectrum.

AUD involves the lack of control over alcohol consumption. The term is used by medical professionals instead of terms such as ‘alcoholic’ or ‘alcohol’, as these terms could contribute to negative stigma.

There are many negative consequences of AUD, including physical health issues, financial difficulty, and mental health problems.

Someone with alcohol dependence will experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop drinking or lower the amount of alcohol their body is used to.

Harmful drinking habits can impact all areas of somebody’s life – including their relationships, work life, finances, and of course, physical health and mental health. It impacts millions of people around the world, with over 700,000 people dependent on alcohol in England.

Alcohol is a causal factor in over 60 medical health conditions. Alcohol consumption is also a known carcinogen. The National Toxicology Program’s Report on Carcinogens states that alcohol consumption can increase the risk of developing several cancers.

Alcohol addiction has also been linked to Alzheimer’s disease, alcohol-related liver disease, and many other health issues.

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Why Is There A Stigma Associated With Alcohol Addiction?

The transition from casual drinker to ‘alcoholic’ can occur quickly, and people may not notice until the symptoms become more severe.

Alcoholism is an illness, and although somebody may make choices (for example, alcohol misuse) that can result in alcoholism, nobody chooses to develop an alcohol use disorder.


Often, people with alcohol use disorders and other substance use disorders are considered to be more responsible for their addiction than people with mental illnesses or psychiatric disorders are for their problems.

This belief and blame can influence certain attitudes towards AUD and substance use disorders. Another contributing factor to the stigma of alcoholism is people believe that alcoholism could portray a lack of willpower.

Some people believe that those who drink too much lack self-control and make a conscious choice to drink too much alcohol. This can lead people to believe that people with alcohol addiction are bad people, instead of people that have an illness.

Cultural Differences

Cultural differences could also play a part in the stigma. If you were brought up in a culture where drinking isn’t socially acceptable, or you don’t know many people who drink alcohol, you may automatically have negative perceptions of somebody who drinks too much alcohol.


A person may fear somebody with AUD – they could see them as unpredictable or even dangerous. These preconceptions only increase the stigma, which can make it harder for people with AUD to seek treatment or open up about their problems.

What Exactly Is The Stigma of Alcoholism?

Public attitudes towards those with substance use disorders can vary. However, some people also see those with AUD as having moral weakness, or lack of character strength.

Another inaccurate perception of people with AUD is that they are self-pitying, emotionally unstable, or unreliable. Some people also believe that people with an alcohol addiction will always be this way and that they are incapable of change.

This is not the case. People can overcome alcohol addiction and lead healthy, sober lives. Some people are considered ‘high-functioning’ alcoholics. This term itself can be considered harmful, as the opposite suggests ‘low functioning’.

Those who consider themselves ‘high functioning alcoholics’ may appear to remain successful in their lives but continue to struggle with substance use, or struggle to control their alcohol consumption.

They may not drink all day but may drink dangerous amounts of alcohol in a short space of time. Because they are able to hide their problem, they may be less inclined to seek support.

How Stigma and Stereotypes Can Be Damaging

Stigma and stereotypes can be extremely damaging to those with addiction. Here’s how:

  • It can prevent people from opening up and seeking the support they need
  • It can provoke negative emotional reactions, impacting mental health and well-being
  • It can change people’s perceptions of themselves and deflate their self-esteem
  • It can impact the family and friends of those with addiction too
  • It can impact communities – an area with high rates of addiction may face stigma
  • It can affect public funding for alcohol treatment services


Ultimately, the negative stigma associated with alcohol use can prevent somebody with an alcohol problem from seeking the help they need or opening up about it to others. This means that they may continue to drink alcohol and their alcohol use will progress, further impacting their lives.

Many people don’t receive treatment because it can cause neighbours or those in the community to have a negative opinion, or it can impact their career and professional life.

Overcoming The Stigma of Addiction

We must break, challenge and reduce the stigma regarding alcoholism. Breaking the stigma of alcoholism can encourage those who need help to seek treatment, and to open up to others about their struggles and experiences.

More and more public figures are opening up about their struggles with substance abuse and alcoholism, which may be helping to reduce stigma.

The general public is becoming more informed about alcoholism – and one of the reasons for this could be due to the representation of the problem on TV, social media, and online.

Accurate and positive representation of those with alcohol addiction can change the public stigma associated with excessive alcohol use and addiction.

One of the best ways to overcome stigma is education. Learning about addiction can help to challenge and overcome negative perceptions.

Instead of using offensive or harmful language, use non-pejorative language with a person-first approach.

Some terms that can be considered harmful include ‘addict’ or ‘alcoholic’ – as they have negative connotations. Instead of using this term, you could say ‘person with alcohol use disorder’ or ‘person with alcohol use problems’.

Likewise, the word ‘clean’ can be harmful, as it suggests that the opposite is ‘dirty’. Instead of saying somebody in recovery is clean, you could say that they are sober, aren’t in active addiction, or have stopped drinking alcohol or taking drugs.

The word ‘junkie’ can also be very damaging and can contribute to the stigma associated with drug addiction. Instead of referring to somebody as a junkie, simply say they have a substance use disorder or drug addiction.

Get Help For Alcoholism Today

The negative stigma that still exists around alcohol abuse and alcohol use disorder shouldn’t stop you from seeking the treatment you deserve.

Our team at Help4Addiction will listen to your preferences and requirements to find the right treatment programme for you – where you receive not only medical support but mental and social support too.

Treatment for alcoholism begins with a detox. Detoxification focuses on the physical aspect of addiction. During alcohol detoxification, all access to alcohol will be cut off to free your body of the active substance.

The next stage of alcohol addiction treatment involves therapy. The therapy options available can vary from clinic to clinic, although most rehab centres offer the following options:

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy/ CBT
  • One-to-one counselling
  • Group therapy and family therapy
  • Interpersonal therapy
  • Dialectical behavioural therapy/ DBT


Addiction therapy can strengthen your confidence and overall mental health and teach you effective and valuable coping strategies. It can also teach you more about yourself, how your mind works, as well as your addiction triggers.

Contact us today to learn more about the admissions process, or to simply learn more about the treatment options available to you.

About Author

Nicholas Conn

Nicholas Conn

Nicholas Conn is a leading industry addiction expert who runs the UK’s largest addiction advisory service and is regularly featured in the national press, radio and TV. He is the founder and CEO of a drug and alcohol rehab center called Help4addiction, which was founded in 2015. He has been clean himself since 2009 and has worked in the Addiction and Rehab Industry for over a decade. Nick is dedicated to helping others recover and get treatment for drug and alcohol abuse. In 2013, he released a book ‘The Thin White’ line that is available on Amazon.

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