Erasing the Stigma: Addiction is Not a Character Flaw

By Shirley Tien, Army Resilience DirectorateAugust 26, 2022

There are many misconceptions about addiction and who it impacts. However, addiction can happen to anyone. It is a disease that can be treated, and it does not define who you are. Addiction is not a choice. According to Dr. Yngvild Olsen, director for the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in Rockville, Maryland, "People often do not fully understand the risk factors for the disease, including that about 50% of that risk is genetic.” This means there are genes that could be passed down from family members which increase a person's risk for substance abuse. It can also start out as drinking socially with your battle buddies to unwind or taking prescription drugs to get better sleep after a long day of training. Your brain can get used to these substances which require more of them to have the same effect. Before you know it, you may feel like you can't function without it.

Relapse is not a weakness. Seeking treatment after years of not having any substance use is common and does not reflect an individual's willpower or desire to get better. It is important for friends and Family to show support in an effective manner. Dr. Steven Ramos, a military Veteran and assistant clinical director at American Addiction Center's River Oak Treatment Center in Riverview, Florida, suggests avoiding critical comments such as ''... oh, you're going to rehab again?" Instead, say something like "You're going to rehab, and this could be the time you win, this could be the time you get healthy.”

Recovery is possible. There is no one treatment plan that works for everyone. There are options that vary from behavioral therapy and rehabilitation programs to counseling. The Army Substance Abuse Program at has informative resources for Soldiers and Family members.

"Often, hope gets lost in the midst of addiction, but there are a lot of people who are ready to help,” said Olsen. You can overcome addiction, it's a matter of finding what works for you.

Remember, addiction can happen to anyone.

Don't let the stigma deter you from seeking help. "I would encourage the patients to understand that this disease does not indicate their worth as a human being,” Ramos said.