How Is Addiction Viewed in American Culture?

How Is Addiction Viewed in American Culture?

Nearly 50 percent of American adults know someone in drug or alcohol recovery

Today’s media capture a variety of images about addiction. Some shows glorify drug abuse as a part of a celebrity lifestyle: scenes of money, parties, sex, music and popularity mingle with drugs and alcohol, which impress the glories of addiction upon viewers. Some movies depict the darker side of addiction—they show addicts strung out, emaciated, homeless and emotionally distraught. To add to the problem, celebrities in Hollywood are seen as heroes for getting help, but not the mom who is addicted to painkillers. If art imitates life, today’s media communicate the paradox of how addiction is viewed in American culture, unfairly.

Addiction Among Teenagers

The way teenagers view addiction and drug use spans from acceptance to avoidance. Many social circles see alcohol and marijuana abuse as an almost expected rite of passage. That their classmates used drugs does not seem to be a major issue.

According to the 2012 National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse, teens see the following statistics with drug abuse:

  • Over 85 percent of high school students said some peers drink or use drugs during the school day
  • Over 50 percent of high school students know of a place at or near school where peers could drink or use drugs
  • Almost 45 percent of high school students know a peer who sells drugs at school
  • Over 35 percent of high school students say it is easy to use drugs or alcohol at school without getting caught
  • 75 percent of 12 to 17 year olds say social media pictures that portray teens partying with drugs and alcohol encourage them to abuse drugs
  • 45 percent of teens have seen pictures of teens using drugs, and 45 percent of those viewers say drugs are depicted positively

These statistics show that teenagers tend to accept drug abuse. Seeing pictures of peers using drugs is as normal to them as selfies in the hallway, which communicates acceptance for drug abuse addiction. Furthermore, such acceptance makes it difficult for teens to recognize the need for help. Such lax attitudes about drugs underscores the importance of talking about the real dangers involved with drugs.

How American Adults View Addiction

Adults view addiction differently depending on the audience polled. Age, gender and socioeconomic status all influence views on drugs and abuse; in fact, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

(SAMHSA) found the following information in a recent survey:

  • Nearly 50 percent of American adults know someone in drug or alcohol recovery
  • Only 18 percent of those surveyed would think less of a friend or relative who is in recovery
  • A large percentage of Americans say that people in drug recovery can move on to productive lives and contribute to their community
  • Over 65 percent of Americans would be comfortable being friends with someone in addiction recovery
  • Over 65 percent of Americans think addiction to illicit drugs is preventable

This survey shows differences in attitudes based on age and gender. For example, Americans 25-64 years old and women are more likely than senior citizens (age 65 and older) to believe recovering addicts can lead productive lives. Women are also more likely to believe that addicts endanger society.

Another element that influences opinions is the type of substance abused. Over 55 percent of Americans are comfortable living next door to a recovering alcoholic, but only 46 percent of them are comfortable living next door to a recovering drug addict.

Negative Attitudes About Addiction

Unfortunately, many people view addiction and recovery negatively. A report issued in the October 2014 issue of Psychiatric Services relays some troubling attitudes regarding addiction: many people see addiction as a moral failure, because they do not know that addiction is a disease. Fewer than 25 percent of people surveyed would work closely with an addict, and almost 65 percent of them believe employers have the right to deny employment to recovering drug addicts. In general, those surveyed oppose housing and insurance policies that help recovering drug addicts.

Researchers indicate that, when people think of addiction, they often envision street drugs, poverty and low education levels, but addiction affects people from all backgrounds. This misconception, combined with the shame surrounding addiction, fuels negative perceptions, so many addicts find it difficult to seek help for fear of admitting their problem. Only when the public learn more about the truth of addiction can it be easier to get help.

Getting Help for Addiction

If you or a loved one struggles with addiction, we can help. Call our toll-free, 24 hour helpline right now to talk with our admissions coordinators about the drug problems you experience. Together, you can find the treatment that gives you the best opportunity for recovery; our staff can even call your insurance company to see what benefits are available under your coverage. Don’t allow public opinion to sway your decision to get help. Do what is best for you and seek addiction recovery.

Leave a Reply