Destigmatize Relapse – Marketing that Increases Admissions
For many of those searching for addiction treatment, this isn’t their first rodeo. The situation they are commonly facing is that they or a loved one have relapsed, and they are looking for the treatment provider that is going to help them get back on track with their recovery. This is an opportunity to increase admissions that many treatment providers don’t use to their advantage.
Stigma: A Wedge Between Need and Addiction Treatment
The Need for Treatment
There is a large market for addiction treatment services, and it is a sad reality that many patients will relapse and need additional services. According to 2017 research by The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:1
- Approximately 13.6 million adults aged 26 or older struggled with a substance use disorder
- The same study reports that about 10.6 million adults aged 26 and older had an alcohol use disorder and about 4.3 million adults aged 26 or older had an illicit drug use disorder
- In 2017, an estimated 20.7 million people aged 12 and older needed treatment for a substance use disorder
Only 20% of People who Need Treatment Receive It
- Only 4 million people received treatment, or about 19% of those who needed it.1
- In 2017, of the more than 18 million people who needed but did not receive treatment for substance use, only 1 million, or 5.7%, of those people felt they needed treatment.1
Stigma Keeps People from Addiction Treatment
An inability or failure to obtain treatment reinforces destructive patterns of low self-esteem, isolation, and hopelessness. Stigma tragically deprives people of their dignity and interferes with their full participation in society.3
Stigma results in:
- Prejudice and discrimination
- Fear and shame
- Distrust and disgrace
- Stereotyping and rejection
- Anger and frustration
- Avoidance of treatment and inadequate coverage
- Ostracism and denial of rights
The Prevalence of Relapse
The Battle Against Addiction Stigma
Stigma in Employment and Insurance Benefits
A 2014 study by researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that Americans are more likely to have negative opinions of people with substance use disorders than they are of those with mental illnesses. Participants were also less likely to approve housing or provide insurance or employment benefits that supported individuals affected by addiction compared with individuals affected by other mental illnesses.3
Of the 709 respondents to the survey:
- 62% would work with someone with a mental illness
- Only 22% would work with someone with a substance use disorder
- 75% believed employers shouldn’t be able to deny employment to those affected by a mental illness
- Only 36% believed employers shouldn’t be able to deny employment to people affected by addiction
- 79% would give those with mental illness the same health insurance benefits as otherwise healthy individuals
- Only 57% would give those with substance use disorders the same health insurance benefits as otherwise healthy individuals
Stigma Makes Addiction Worse
Stigma can also make the addiction itself worse. A study in the 2014 Journal of Alcoholism, Clinical and Experimental Research found that when people with substance use disorders perceived social rejection or discrimination, it increased their feelings of depression or anxiety.3 So, stigma creates, or increases, mood disorders. And, people with co-occurring substance abuse and mood disorders perceived more negative attitudes against them.3 That’s a vicious cycle we need to break.
Stigmatizing Yourself: The Internal Battle
There are various types of stigma attached to addiction treatment, but one of the most impactful is stigma from within the addiction sufferer’s mind. Recovery from addiction is not easy and people encounter numerous obstacles including:
- Medical problems
- Psychological challenges
- Family issues
- Legal problems
- Work related issues
Addicted people’s lives have become unmanageable. They most likely are experiencing low self-esteem because of the recognition of how much they have hurt themselves and others. They may feel like a victim or blame themselves and feel like they can’t get better, or that they don’t deserve to.
It is not the belief of others, it is the stigma within that affects me the greatest. It is the deeply-rooted disdain that seems to be threaded within the fabric of my being that stagnates my progress. It reveals its ugly face when I perceive that what I have to offer is not substantial. It is the belief that I am not worthy or good enough. It is the belief that I don’t have what it takes to make it. — Marianne Ali, Kitchen Manager, D.C. Central Kitchen, Washington, D.C.4
Language Matters: Stigma of “Substance Abuser” vs. “Having a Substance Use Disorder”
Stigma also comes in external forms. In a survey by the Recovery Research Institute, 314 individuals responded to 35 questions related to how they perceived or felt about two people “actively using drugs and alcohol.”4 One person was referred to as a “substance abuser”, and the other was referred to as “having a substance use disorder”. No further information was given about these hypothetical individuals.
Participants in the study felt, overall, that the “substance abuser” was:4
- Less likely to benefit from treatment
- More likely to benefit from punishment
- More likely to be socially threatening
- More likely to be blamed for their substance-related difficulties and less likely that their problem was the result of an innate dysfunction over which they had no control
- More able to control their substance use without help
Strategies for Addressing Stigma
All the clinicians that Active Marketing interviewed during our research for the Marketing Addiction Treatment to Millennials in 2020 project support this notion of working to destigmatize addiction and relapse. Marketing messaging that helps break the stigma will resonate with your target audience deeply and positively, which will make them more comfortable with reaching out for help. Here are a few important shifts in messaging that can encourage millennials to go to addiction treatment when they need it.
Demystify Treatment and Recovery
Many people believe that recovery is a pass/fail concept. Show them that recovery is a dynamic process with multiple phases that includes setbacks and progress that’s often incremental.
The ones that haven’t been to treatment before, I think number one is they expect once they’ve gone to treatment that that’s the end of their recovery. They’re not aware of the work that it takes after the initial treatment stay to continue their recovery. – Melanie
Put a human face on the recovery concept by featuring real people. Have them share their stories, complete with successes and setbacks.
It’s very challenging to be sober. It’s very hard when they’ve adopted this style that when life gets stressful, I resort to drugs and alcohol and that’s something that they maybe unconsciously didn’t realize was happening you know, previous to their addiction. So, like validating their experience that… it’s essentially just very challenging and it’s very common that people relapse. – Natasha
Maybe it’s more common than they think… the person they buy their coffee from at Starbucks might be struggling with addiction too… Like they’re not alone. This is far more common and it’s kind of a way of life now. – Melanie
Mention relapse not as a failure, but as a steppingstone. Mention relapse is undesired but common among chronic disorders, including addiction. Mention it does not indicate treatment failure only a chance to identify areas where their treatment needs to be strengthened.
I have another client who just recently relapsed and she was overworking herself and not focusing on her program and not connecting to her sober community. And she kind of just like worked all the time to the point that she was so stressed that she relapsed…when they relapse, they internalize like, “Oh, here we go again… I can’t get this right.” So, it’s this negative distortion, this negative belief system that kinda like perpetuates this negative idea of themselves. – Natasha
Identify Positive Outcomes
Focus messaging on rapidly achieved positive outcomes that are smaller than full recovery.
- Personal connections
- Empowerment through education
- Healing damaged family relationships
- Personal growth
- Continued support network
Active Marketing: Proven Game Changers
Active Marketing has transformed addiction treatment businesses with our strategic horsepower. We have proven experience developing and executing marketing strategies that get your brand’s best messaging in front of the right people at the right time and place. Our impact on our clients’ bottom lines changes the way they do business. We’d love to talk to you more about your potential.
Give us a call today: (877) 814-5716