A stereotype can be defined as repetition without variation. The word is most often used to refer to how humans hold a popular belief about specific individuals. These beliefs about other people can be negative or positive, and they can impact how people interact with each other.
Stereotypes are closely related to in groups and out groups. The in group is what the individual already belongs to or aspires to join. For their perspective this group is superior and right. Everyone who does not belong to the in group will be considered to be the out group. The individual will have negative stereotypical images of these other people, and they will look down on these other individuals and feel threatened by them. A good example of this would be substance abusers. The in group they belong to is made up of other drug users or heavy alcohol drinkers. They will have negative stereotypical images for those who do not use alcohol or drugs – for example, they might view such individuals as all boring or shallow. Meanwhile to those individuals who do not enjoy substance abuse it will be the addict who appears to be in the out group.
Stereotypes can be dangerous for a number of reasons including:
* They are almost always wrong or only provide half truths.
* People use negative images of other people as a means to justify their own bad behavior.
* All conflicts begin by demonizing the enemy.
* They lead to hatred and resentment, and these negative feelings can destroy a person’s life.
* Stereotypes can be bad because they cause confusion and mistrust. It divides the world into us and them.
* They are unfair and can lead to a great deal of suffering in the world.
The word addict is associated with quite a number of different negative stereotypes. The subscribed characteristics can differ slightly depending on whether the person is an alcohol addict or a drug addict. The stereotypical image of the alcoholic is:
* A person who drinks cheap liquor – typically from a brown paper bag.
* A person who drinks every day and is never really sober.
* They have to drink as soon as they wake up in the morning.
* They will move from job to job or be unemployable.
* They will engage in domestic violence.
* They become physically or verbally aggressive in public when they are intoxicated.
* These are people who often prefer to drink alone.
* They can be associated with certain ethnic groups or communities.
* The typical alcoholic will be down on their look and be considered a failure in life.
* They are likely to be estranged from their family.
* They frequently have blackouts where they can’t remember large chunks of time.
* The wear cheap clothing and don’t take care of their personal hygiene.
* They are usually homeless or live in squalor.
* Alcoholics come from deprived backgrounds or were abused as children.
* They are terrible parents.
* There stereotypical alcoholic is over forty years of age.
The stereotype of the drug addict will include:
* They have a criminal history and will have regular contact with the police.
* Spend a great deal of time in back alleys in the wrong side of town.
* They will steal money and belongings from family and friends.
* These individuals will be unable to hold down a job.
* The stereotypical drug addict is under forty years of age.
* They are unable to hold down a relationship and probably have no sex drive.
* They dress like a hippie and don’t wash.
* Most people in their local community will view them as lowlife
* They have no ambition in life.
* They are likely to live in a rundown building with other drug users.
* They will be involved with the criminal underworld.
The reality is that most addicts do not fit the stereotype for the alcoholic or the drug addict. There are many who are high functioning, and this means that they are able to disguise their problems even from family members. A high functioning alcoholic might:
* Only ever drink expensive beers and wines.
* Have days when they do not drink.
* Only drink after 6pm.
* Have an extremely successful career and be admired by their peers.
* Never become physically or verbally aggressive.
* They can be any age.
* They are well respected in their community.
* Their children love them.
* They have good friends.
* They live in a nice house and have lots of nice things.
* They dress in expensive clothes and are strict about personal hygiene.
* They come from a privileged background.
* They never have blackouts.
The high functioning drug addict might:
* Only get there drugs from somebody in a suit who works in an office.
* Never had any legal problems or be known to law enforcement – they may even be a respected member of the law enforcement community.
* They might frown upon people who break the law.
* They might never have any dealings with criminal underworld.
* They can have a great job.
* They dress well.
* Addicts can have plenty of ambition.
* Their friends who are drug users are also doing outwardly well in life.
The addiction stereotype can dangerous for a number of reasons because:
* Most addicts do not fit the stereotype so they can fool themselves into believing that they don’t have a problem.
* The fact that they do not fit the stereotype may mean that family and friends do not put pressure on them to stop their self-destructive behavior.
* The individual will feel ashamed about admitting that they have a problem because they do not want to be viewed as an addict.
* Family and friends may also be worried about the stigma associated with the addict stereotype so they also feel the need to cover things up.
* The negative image of the addict can mean that the general public feels less compassionate towards these suffering humans. They may view such people as just bad and fully responsible for their situation.