Addicts Need Not Apply: Discrimination and Addiction

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In the not-so-distant past, perceptions of addiction were a bit different than what they are today. It’s now known that addiction is a disease that also meets a number of criteria for a mental disorder, but prior to the accumulation of research it was believed that addiction was a conscious choice. Moreover, addicts were seen as being bad people, weak in will and of character. As a result of this extremely low view of addicts that pervaded society, substance abusers were typically punished for their affliction, which often meant they were sentenced to prison or put into insane asylums where they could be forced into abstinence. The idea was that these individuals simply needed to have their ability to choose to abuse alcohol and drugs taken away from them and the punishment they incurred would deter them from any future substance abuse behaviors.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. When the addicts had fulfilled their sentenced and had their freedom restored, most of them would soon return to their former substance abuse behaviors in spite of the known consequences that they’d already faced. It was obvious that there was some component of the substance abuse equation that was causing these individuals to act in direct opposition of their best interests, sparking decades of research and study that would inform the views of addiction today.

With the knowledge that addiction is a disease with components of behavioral disorder, a number of effective, multidisciplinary treatments have been developed to help those suffering from addiction to regain their sobriety and independence. And while addiction treatment professionals are aware that addicts aren’t able to control their behaviors, the average person still tends to view addicts through the negative lens of years past. This means that instead of viewing addicts with sympathy and understanding, addicts are seen as a public nuisance, undesirables who have brought their substance abuse problems on themselves. Everyone is entitled to their opinions, but this negative stigma that seems to be strongly attached to the disease of addiction poses a number of problems, particularly for those addicts who are sober and in recovery.

Comparing the addiction stigma to other stereotypes

In a survey conducted in Britain, it was found that more than half of the country’s residents would not want to live next door to someone who was previously an addict. It seemed that knowing the ex-addict was no longer abusing alcohol or using drugs made no difference; a sizeable portion of the population viewed a recovered addict with the same level of negativity as individuals who are still in active addiction. The study’s literature makes parallels between these negative perceptions of addiction and the stigmatization of mental and emotional disorders; it’s frequently the case that individuals with mental or emotional disorders are considered to be dangerous, resulting in most people not wanting these “lunatics” and “psychos” to be near them. Similarly, whether or not an addict had completed treatment and been in recovery, many people did not want “junkies” to be living next door to them, viewing them with the same level of abhorrence that one would have for a sexual predator who moved into one’s neighborhood.

Discriminating against addicts and recovered addicts alike

While on the one hand it is somewhat understandable for a person to have reservations about an individual with whom they’re not acquainted and whom they know to be presently addicted to drugs, it’s disheartening that this stigma extends even to those individuals who have overcome their addictions and become sober, oftentimes even remaining sober for extended periods of time. To make matters worse, this stigmatization too often results in actual discrimination and opportunities lost or retracted due to the discovery of a prior history of substance abuse. One of the most frequent instances of discrimination against those in recovery pertains to situations of potential employment.

There have been countless reports of qualified individuals being denied employment once it was discovered that they had previous histories of substance abuse problems. In many cases, the employer is basing the decision to disqualify a prospective candidate based on comparisons of the candidate to the stereotypical addict, which is an exaggerated caricature that’s based on sensationalized media coverage. Despite the candidate being in recovery, the employer sees a recovered addict as a liability, someone who could potentially be intoxicated while on the job and injure him or herself or others. While this seems to be an unfair assumption, statistics show that at any given time, between 10 and 25 percent of the American workforce is under the influence of alcohol or drugs while on the job; therefore, substance abuse-related workplace incidents are likely not an uncommon occurrence, especially for companies that employ many thousands of workers.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects recovered addicts

On the one hand, a person might be understanding of why an employer would want to avoid taking a gamble that could result in costly incidents that might have been prevented; however, it’s clear that this judgement against all addicts in recovery is blatant discrimination. Fortunately, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects recovering addicts when they meet one of three specific criteria. The legislation explicitly states that employers have an obligation to keep the workplace alcohol and drug free, but they’re also prohibited from discriminating against anyone with a history of addiction who has been rehabilitated and is no longer using alcohol or drugs. According to the ADA, an individual is protected under the Act when (1) he or she has completed a rehabilitation program and is no longer engaged in substance abuse, (2) he or she is currently in a rehabilitation program and is no longer engaged in substance abuse, or (3) he or she is regarded erroneously, or incorrectly, as being a user of alcohol or drugs.

Let the Recovery Hub help you achieve lasting sobriety and health

Living in the throes of active addiction is hard. While recovery isn’t necessarily an easy process, it’s definitely a journey that will deliver individuals to a life of health and happiness. If you or someone you love would like a free consultation, call Recovery Hub today at 888-220-4352. We’re available anytime, day or night, to help anyone in need begin the healing journey.

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