How We Prejudge Or Misjudge Those Afflicted By Addiction, How Others View Addiction And What We Can Do To Promote Change

How much control do we have over ourselves? It is a simple question, but one with far-reaching implications.

For instance, the level of control you believe someone else has over various aspects of their life would likely impact not just how you might personally judge, say a drug addict, but also your attitudes to whether and how much the state should be willing to help them.

Studies have indicated for instance, that quite a few aspects of weight gain and addiction are down to genetics, any physical or mental health conditions they have and that being poor makes making good financial decisions harder. Even our political views may be less under our control than we first realise.

That being the case, YouGov have explored how far Britons believe people can control various personal characteristics, how much they judge people for having those characteristics and the interaction between those two sets of views.

What Can We Control About Ourselves?

Of the 12 characteristics YouGov asked about, Britons believe the one we have most control over is how nice a person we are. More than six in ten (63%) of Brits say they believe a person has “a large amount of control” over this. A further 60% believe we have a large amount of control over our political views, while 54% feel the same about how well or badly we spend our money.

From the survey, 44% of participants said that drug and alcohol addicts have a large amount of control as to whether they become addicted to drugs or alcohol, 28% said they have a moderate amount of control, 16% said a small amount of control, 5% said they have no control and 7% didn’t know.

Much further down the scale, only 8% of Britons believe people have a high level of control over their intelligence and just 7% feel people have a large amount of control over how rich or poor they are.

At the very bottom of the scale, the characteristic we believe people have the least control over is how good looking they are – only 4% say someone has a large amount of control over this, while half (51%) say a person has “no control” over this.

Perceptions Of Control Affect How Readily People Judge Others, But Changing These Perceptions Might Not Help In All Cases

Unsurprisingly, for most of the attributes there is a strong correlation between control and judgement. The more control people believe a person has over a personal attribute, the more likely they are to say they judge people on that attribute (and the more likely they are to say it is acceptable to judge someone on that attribute).

So for instance, while 61% of people who judge a person for being a drug or alcohol addict believe people have a large amount of control over addiction, this figure is only 24% among those who say they do not judge people for being addicted to drugs or alcohol.

This means that politicians and campaigners looking to change attitudes on issues like treatments, therapies and support options for addiction would do well to start a public discussion about the extent to which people really have control over and these aspects of themselves.

However, such an approach might not work across the board.

If we look at the attitudes of people who judge someone over a given characteristic, in most cases the vast majority feel that a person has a high or moderate level of control over that attribute. But in the case of three attributes – accent, looks or being unintelligent – more people who judge someone for this think people have a small level or no control over this attribute than think they have a moderate or large level of control.

In other words, the majority of people who judge a person for their accent, looks or for being unintelligent do so in spite of the fact they believe a person has little to no control over that aspect of themselves.

With regards to addiction, 46% said that addicts have a large to moderate amount of control and are judged for this, 6% said that addicts have little to no control, yet still judge them anyway, 11% said they didn’t know, 21% said that addicts have large or moderate amount of control and do not judge them and finally, 14% said that they thought addicts had little to no control and do not judge them.

40% said it is acceptable to judge people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol, 46% said it was unacceptable to judge people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol and 14% said that they did not know.

Yet according to the survey, only 26% said it was acceptable to judge people who are overweight, 61% said it was unacceptable to judge those who are overweight and 10% said they did not know.

These results clearly show that according to public opinion (based on the data shown in this survey), more people judge addicts for their behaviour and assumed control than they do those who are overweight.

With clear evidence showing that having a drug or alcohol addiction will affect the way we perceive others and people perceive addicts, this means that it will limit their opportunities for work, healthcare, criminal convictions, housing and of course, the way the public perceive addicts who are yet to enter treatment and recovery or those who lapse/relapse, too. People hoping to tackle this bias against those who have an addiction, as well as other associated aspects within their personality, financially, criminally ect will need to find a range of alternative methods to convince our fellow Britons to treat their fellow countrymen fairly based on correct information and frank, open and honest conversations and education.

Examples of non-stigmatizing language when speaking about substance use disorders and recovery.

What We Say And How We Say It Does Matter!

Below are the results of an experiment done by The Recovery Research Institute asking people how they felt about two people actively using drugs and alcohol. One was referred to as a “substance abuser” and the other as having a “substance use disorder” and these were the findings.

What About Mental Health?

People are significantly more likely to have negative attitudes toward those suffering from drug addiction than those with mental illness, and don’t support insurance, housing, and employment policies that benefit those dependent on drugs, new Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health research suggests.

While both are treatable health conditions, stigma of drug addiction much more pronounced, seen as ‘moral failing’

Results From A Separate Study Also Found These Fascinating Results

A report on the findings, which appears in the October issue of the journal Psychiatric Services, suggests that society seems not to know whether to regard substance abuse and addiction as a treatable medical condition akin to diabetes or heart disease, or as a personal failing to be overcome. The UK Government states that drug and alcohol addiction is a medical condition and because of this, is protected under law, the same way heart disease or a broken arm is.

“While drug addiction and mental illness are both chronic, treatable health conditions, the UK public is more likely to think of addiction as a moral failing than a medical condition,” says study leader Colleen L. Barry, an associate professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management. “In recent years, it has become more socially acceptable to talk publicly about one’s struggles with mental illness. But with addiction, the feeling is that the addict is a bad or weak person who has moral failings, weren’t raised correctly or have complete control over their addictive behaviours, especially because much drug use is illegal.”

People often forget to remember that many thousands of people are also addicted to prescription and over-the-counter medication and these numbers are constantly increasing each year and is predicted to match (almost exactly) the same addiction rates of illegal substances by 2025 if trends continue as they currently are.

Not only did they find that respondents had significantly more negative opinions about those with drug addiction than those with mental illness, the researchers found much higher levels of public opposition to policies that might help drug addicts in their recovery to get clean, sober and become fully functioning members of society who can contribute back in so many ways, including physically and financially, to name just two.

Only 22% of respondents said they would be willing to work closely on a job with a person with drug or alcohol addiction compared to 62% who said they would be willing to work with someone with mental illness. 64% said that employers should be able to deny employment to people with a drug or alcohol addiction compared to 25% with a mental illness.

Respondents agreed on one question: Roughly 3 in 10 people believe that recovery from either mental illness or drug addiction is impossible.

The researchers say that the stories of drug and alcohol addiction portrayed in the media are often of illegal “street” drug use in bad economic conditions rather than of those in the more wealthy areas who have become addicted to prescription painkillers after struggling with a chronic pain condition.

Drug addicts who fail treatment are seen as “falling off the wagon,” as opposed to people grappling with a chronic health condition that is hard to bring under control, they say. Missing they say, are inspiring stories of people who, with effective treatment, therapies, support and guidance are able to overcome addiction and live drug or alcohol-free lives for many years.

Once it would have been taboo for people to casually discuss the antidepressants they are taking, which is often seen as normal these days. That kind of frank talk can do wonders in shaping public opinion.

The more shame, blame and negative stereotypes associated with drug and alcohol addiction, the less likely we as a community will be in a position to change attitudes and get people the help they need, not only to help them live healthier, happier lives, but to save lives too! If you can educate the public that these are treatable and manageable conditions, we will see higher levels of support for policy changes that benefit people with combined mental illness and drug addiction.

So Where Are People Getting This Information?

We are taught about drugs in schools, normally no longer than half of one lesson, possibly one whole lesson if you are lucky. We then only understand drug and alcohol addiction based on what we see on TV, new articles, video games, magazines and the misinformation that is passed onto us from our parents, family members and friends. Most often, this information is outdated and when this topic does come up on TV programs, they are over-dramatised for entertainment value rather than accuracy. Unfortunately, documentaries and educational programs don’t show very often on TV either. Depending on when we are born also skews our perception of addiction as older people are told even more outdated information than younger people.

For example, an experiment was ran, asking: Does perception of drug-related harm change with age? A cross-sectional online survey of young and older people. The results below show their findings.


Of the illegal drugs, heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine were rated as the most harmful and cannabis was rated as the least harmful. Alcohol and tobacco were also rated as less harmful. The results showed that perceptions of drug-related harms were inconsistent with current knowledge from research on drugs. Furthermore, perceptions on drug harms were more conservative in the 45+ group for a number of illegal drugs and tobacco. However, the 45+ age group did not perceive alcohol as any more harmful than the younger group.

7 Myths About Drug Addiction That Damage The Work Of Campaigners & Activists

1. Addicted Individuals Caused Their Own Drug Addictions

Arguably the most dangerous myth about drug addiction is that people deliberately choose to be addicted to drugs. Drug addiction is essentially a brain disorder and addiction is never the fault of the user.

2. Just Reducing Drug Use Is Better And Easier Than Quitting Altogether

To truly recover from addiction, it’s not enough to simply cut down on drug use. A complete detox is necessary to break ties from drugs and improve overall physical health.

3. Treating Drug Addiction With Public Funds Is A Waste

To the general public, one of the myths about drug addiction that can do serious damage is the idea that paying for rehab or drug treatment is a waste of time and money. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, for every £1 spent on treating drug and alcohol use, saves £6 that might otherwise be spent on jail, medical bills or legal costs.

4. Drug Addiction is Only A Problem Other Certain Countries

Drug addiction is a global concern. Already, at least 114 countries have reported HIV infections relating to drug use, highlighting the scope of the problem.

5. Drug Addiction Can Be Treated In A Matter Of Days

Some particularly dangerous myths about drug addiction relate to the average length of treatment. A week of detox simply isn’t enough for lasting recovery, and many researchers believe that it takes a minimum of 21 days in inpatient therapy or more than 90 days in outpatient therapy to secure lasting results. Addictions weren’t gained over night and won’t be recovered overnight either.

6. Prescription Or Over-The-Counter Drugs Aren’t “Real” Drugs

Many people believe that prescription or over-the-counter medication addictions aren’t as problematic or common as illegal drugs like heroin or cocaine. However, 1 in 4 people take medication that is known to be addictive. A true number is not known, however, best estimates in 2019 said that more than 2.4 million UK residents abused prescription drugs or are addicted to prescription/over-the-counter medication, a number that can’t be ignored!

7. Addicted Individuals Are Beyond Help

Unfortunately, some people still believe that drug or alcohol addicted individuals are beyond help and can’t ever obtain and enjoy true rehabilitation. Although relapse rates do hover between 40 and 60%, that still means that roughly half (50%) of those who complete rehab say goodbye forever to drug use. Understanding the truth behind common myths about drug addiction can make it easier to achieve the ultimate goal of recovery.

So, What Can We Do To Change This Situation?

It is up to all of us to play our small part in the big picture. If you feel as passionately about this issue as we do, you might want to help by doing some of the following:

1. Give The Other Person An Out

People really hate admitting they’re wrong (don’t judge, this is doubtlessly true for everyone too), and it’s impossible to bash through this stubbornness by sheer force. The more you demand that someone admit they were wrong or foolish, the deeper they’ll generally dig themselves into their current opinion.

Instead, “give their mind an out,” The key is to trick the mind by giving it an excuse. Convince your own mind (or your someone else’s) that your prior decision or prior belief was the right one given what you knew or were told at the time, but now that the underlying facts have changed, so should the mind,”.

Yes, this demands a degree of self restraint, as insulting others or gloating can give you a quick jolt of satisfaction. But the moment you belittle the mind for believing in something, you’ve lost the battle.

2. Empathise Your Way Into Their Perspective

Many times, when two camps are at odds, it’s not necessarily a matter of absolute disagreement about the facts, it’s a matter of differing priorities or values. Sceptics of environmental regulation, for example, often concede that clean air and water are nice to have, they just think economic opportunity and jobs should weigh heavier in the balance.

That means that, to change minds, you don’t just need to talk about the facts, you need to talk about beliefs and values. And to do that, you need to see things from other people’s perspective. You need empathy in other words.

If someone disagrees with you, it’s not because they’re wrong and you’re right. It’s because they believe something that you don’t believe.

The challenge is to figure out what that thing is and adjust your “frequency”. If employment is the primary concern of the Detroit auto worker, showing him images of endangered penguins (as adorable as they may be) or Antarctica’s melting glaciers will get you nowhere. Instead, show him how renewable energy will provide job security to his grandchildren. Now, you’ve got his attention.

3. Practice Getting Out Of Your Bubble

Is doing all this easy or natural? Not at all. In order to get good at changing minds, you need to practice this skill, and that means actually regularly talking (respectfully) to people who are different from you.

Make a point to befriend people who disagree with you. Expose yourself to environments where your opinions can be challenged, as uncomfortable and awkward as that might be.

Also, if you want to change others’ opinions, first make sure you’re willing to change yours too. “Ask yourself, ‘What fact would change one of my strongly held opinions?’ If the answer is ‘no fact would change my opinion,’ you could be in trouble. try different approaches so that you can adjust your approach to”suit” the persons personality and perspective.

Some other points can also help promote social change.

  • Share Important Information and News
  • Build an Engaged Community
  • Provide Training and Education
  • Receive Ground-Level Reports
  • Take Immediate Action

Share Important Information & News

Before the internet, spreading important information required you to make expensive media buys, distribute leaflets of questionable efficacy or make time-consuming trips and personal appearances. With the internet, you can use an organisational or personal website to provide all the information essential to understanding your cause and the actions that need to be taken to effect change. Additionally, through social media, you can keep people updated on developments and news affecting your cause as well as providing the general public with correct information and facts rather than hearsay or myths.

Build an Engaged Community

Most organisations working for social change have plenty of volunteer opportunities. The internet makes finding people to take on those opportunities far easier than ever before. Those who share your concerns can seek you out online. Likewise, you can find them through online message boards and social media posts. And volunteers are just one way you can get people involved. Through an active online presence, you can build an engaged, worldwide network of volunteers, activists, donors, and concerned citizens who can all reach out to areas of the general public we may not have access to, further developing your cause. You no longer have to rent out community space to bring people together. You can do so online.

Provide Training & Education

Whether you’re disseminating details of your preferred social change model, planning a demonstration, organising a canvassing event, sharing correct facts and figures or just teaching others about the importance of your cause, the internet provides numerous training and educational tools. You can use an online training platform, set up online courses or distribute educational materials through e-mail and other online means. The limitations depend only on the resources you can apply. Organisations such as residential rehabilitation centres, community based drug and alcohol services as well as Council or Regional political platforms also provide an opportunity to educate others and effect change.

Receive Ground-Level Reports

You can’t be everywhere at once, know everyone, speak to everyone or take advantage of every single opportunity on your own. But if you’ve built a strong online community, you can have eyes and ears all over the place. For instance, if you are a national addiction awareness activist working in Bournemouth and a town in Oxford is considering trialling a new scheme or educational program, you can follow the city council’s debate via social media reports from allies and members of your online community. This can give you real-time, ground-level information about whats working, what isn’t and what else needs to be done to maximise its effectiveness to promote the change you hope to. And that might be the difference between being able to take action at the right time and being too late and missing an opportunity.

Take Immediate Action

All over the world, social movements have been using social media such as Twitter & Facebook to plan and stage demonstrations. You can use the same technology to address issues affecting your own cause. From e-mail campaigns, representatives, TV debates and radio guest spots to emergency relief efforts for those in crisis or areas where services and opportunities are lacking, the internet allows you to mobilise people and resources swiftly.

Campaign images and videos like this one are often most effective at promoting change.

The key to promoting change is:

  1. Dedication, spend time, money and hard work promoting your cause. Don’t give up because no one else seems interested in the beginning. Use platforms such as social media, message boards/forums and any other type of promotional opportunity to raise awareness. Remember, people don’t follow Politicians and vote for them because they only hear from them once. They constantly try to push their opinions, facts and figures at as many people who will listen, and suddenly, that information sticks and people will get behind you and your campaign!
  2. Offer something tangible. For example, people who can vote for change using a pen or their feet are likely to do so if they can see that there would be a real, solid benefit to themselves or others by following you and helping you in your efforts to achieve change. Having an emotional component to it definitely helps too if they could visualise it happening to their son, daughter, parent or friend.
  3. Education. Make sure that you, any other volunteers or like-minded people also have the latest, up-to date information regarding facts and figures. Likewise, Universities and other organisations are constantly researching and developing new medications, therapies and techniques to help change the lives of addicts. Offer to volunteer for studies or research opportunities. This shows that you are serious about your cause and are passionate to promote and advance your cause. It also offers another opportunity for promotion of your issue and provides another opportunity for collaboration with organisations who have a proven track record of honesty, reliability and credibility as well as providing results and resources that work and will advance your cause in one form or another. Campaigns involving pictures and videos are often most effective, especially if there is an emotional attachment to it. For example, here are some campaigns regarding substance addiction you could look at.
  4. Try and tie in your awareness campaigns with current events. For example, each year on the 31st August, it is International Overdose Awareness Day. You could support their cause which would also in turn, support your own! It is also another opportunity for promotion and an opportunity to put your campaign in the minds and emotions of the public by promoting change that is felt and believed by members of the public.
  5. Try creating a money raising idea. Campaigns often require funding of some sort or another and donations from the public to help your cause is one way to do it. For example, a short while ago, everyone was attempting “The Ice Bucket Challenge” to raise money for research into motor neuron disease. This challenge provided a way for the public to do something fun alongside providing a visual presence of your campaign and an opportunity to raise some money to further promote and develop your cause. 

If you want to find out more information and see other answers that weren’t included in the survey mentioned in this article, you can download the full survey results from our Downloads & Media page here.

Likewise, we want to help to promote change in the perception of substance addiction as well as the lives of those family and friends that surround addicts and develop new effective treatments, therapies and techniques to help treat substance addiction. If you would like to discuss this further. E-mail us at:

Published by Drink ’n’ Drugs

Providing useful, relevant, up to date information and support for those suffering from active addiction or those who are in recovery.

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