Use of Mutual Support to Counteract the Effects of Socially Constructed Stigma: Gender and Drug Addiction
Women seeking recovery from addiction bring with them feelings of guilt and shame that arise, in large part, from the stigma associated with
overconsumption of substances. Although men are also stigmatized for their afﬂiction, women experience a double standard applied to them, and this alone deters some women from seeking treatment for their addiction. Sustained cultural emphasis on gender roles, especially women’s reproductive roles, contributes to the double standard for which women perceive they are judged. Additionally, stigma can be considered a social construction that exists in a larger cultural and political framework that women both conform to and challenge in their recovery from addiction. This article looks at the role mutual-support groups play in helping women to confront the social construction of the double standard as they seek recovery through afﬁliation and participation in a mutual-support group. Mutual-support groups offer an alternative to formal treatment and attempt to address the issue of stigma in their respective approaches to recovery. Mutual-support venues designed speciﬁcally for women allow them to acknowledge their perceptions and feelings associated with stigma, whether alcoholic or addicted to other drugs. Additionally, mutual-support groups that address drug addiction rather than alcohol addiction, solely, attract a more diverse membership including those women who have historically been the most socially marginalized, as well as addicted. It is the argument of this study that women in Narcotics Anonymous (NA) are likely to be highly stigmatized due to their social marginality and their addiction to illicit drugs. Therefore, particular attention is given to a sample of women seeking mutual support in NA. NA attracts a diverse population and is inclusive of all substance abuse including licit and illicit drug abuse as well as alcohol abuse.