There are many factors that play a role in the development of substance use and addiction. One of these factors, particularly under-discussed, stems from discrimination of minority populations and associated oppression. It is necessary to discuss how oppression plays a role in addiction, especially because these facts challenge stigma.
What Is Oppression?
The most general definition of oppression is unjust treatment or control. Oppression occurs when a person or organization uses their power in an unfair, cruel, or needlessly controlling way to another individual, group, or community. Examples of oppression in everyday life may include:
- gender discrimination
- racial inequality
- lack of religious freedom
- socioeconomic discrimination
- discrimination based on immigration status
- abusive relationships
It may be easier to understand oppression as an experience where one feels emotionally, mentally, or physically dominated by another person or group. One might feel bullied, held back or controlled, or feel as if they are a victim of injustice. Oppression can be traumatizing, especially if a person endures multiple experiences of oppression over time.
How Does Oppression Contribute to Addiction?
Because oppression is often a traumatic experience, it can strip a person of their dignity and identity. It can make them feel continuously inferior, as the oppressor first made them feel. Over time, these feelings of inferiority and loss of self can lead to increased feelings of frustration and pain.
When feelings of pain and other negative emotions are not dealt with over time, they are likely to bottle up. When chronic symptoms of low self-esteem, depressed emotion, and lack of self-worth are emphasized, the risk of developing a mental health condition or substance use disorder increases significantly.
Even with normal levels of stress and anxiety, many people like to have a drink or smoke to relax. When the symptoms of mental illness become crippling to the mind and body, many people turn to substances to self-medicate. Most people to substances not knowing that they could one day become addicted to them. However, when a person uses substances as a coping mechanism, they are already setting themselves up for addiction.
With that being said, oppression does not contribute to addiction directly. Through repeated or severe instances of oppression, mental distress increases and the likelihood of using substances to cope also increases.
How to Stand Up for Yourself During Instances of Oppression
Most circumstances of oppression involve being the minority identity in the room. It makes an oppressive encounter even more overwhelming when you are the only one experiencing the discrimination. To avoid an increased risk of developing addiction or other mental health distress, it is important that you learn ways to stand up for yourself when you are faced with oppression.
Learning to stand up for yourself is a way of letting other people know that you not only respect yourself, but you deserve to be respected by those around you. You do not want to be pushed around or manipulated. If you once considered yourself to be a people-pleaser and ignored your own self-worth in the process, it is time to work on your confidence.
Assertiveness is key when you are learning to stand up for yourself. Reflect on your own personal and individualized needs, and give yourself time to learn them. If a gentle approach to being assertive is not working, do not give in to verbal aggression. Honor your human needs without letting the actions of others affect you. Learn how to love yourself in the process.
Treating Addiction Caused by Oppression
Oppression frequently causes trauma that plays a part in the development of addiction. If you suffer from addiction, it is essential that you receive the support and guidance you need to work through your past trauma. Treating your addiction does not mean that you are just stopping substance use- you also need to work through the triggers that cause you to rely on substances to begin with.
Although trauma itself is not always a root cause of addiction, a trauma or anxiety-related condition with severe symptoms of mental distress related to your past instances of oppression could cause you to turn to substances to cope. It is crucial that the treatment facility that you are working with to heal your addiction also offers trauma-related education and therapy to help you work through your mental adversity. Your substance use and addiction do not define you.
You deserve to feel worthy of a life worth living, free from oppression. By working on yourself, you will be able to advocate for and support those that struggle from oppressive experiences in the future.
Oppression is an experience of unjust, cruel, or otherwise controlled power towards an individual, group, or community. Oppression often occurs when there is judgment and discrimination towards someone else that associates with an identity that differs from a group norm. Oppression is traumatizing and causes severe problems with mental and emotional functioning. Oppression contributes to the development of addiction because those that experience untreated symptoms of distress often turn to substances to self-medicate. It is essential that treatment for addiction focuses not only on stopping substance use and sustaining sobriety, but also focuses on treating the trauma associated with personal instances of oppression. West Coast Recovery Centers focuses on treating the underlying causes of substance use and addiction to ensure long-lasting recovery. We offer various trauma-related therapies and exercise to help you during your healing journey. Our individualized treatment plans will empower you to fully understand your self-worth. Call us today at (760) 492-6509.