How Oppression Can Lead to Addiction

How Oppression Can Lead to Addiction

There are an incredible number of risk factors associated with the development of substance use disorders, such as addiction. However, one risk factor rarely discussed is oppression.

Oppression is traumatizing. It can cause individuals to feel shameful or guilty for who they are. It can strip an individual of their human dignity and sense of identity. Oppression can lead to mental health disorders such as depression, which can also contribute to problematic substance use.

What Is Oppression?

Oppression is an unjust or cruel use of power shown toward an individual or a group of people which is unfair, abusive or needlessly controlling. While the term is often used in a political context, individuals can experience oppression in many different ways.

Oppression and discrimination are terms often used interchangeably. Although they have similar meanings, these two terms do not describe the same circumstance. Discrimination is treating a person differently, often less favorably, because of their identity. On the other hand, oppression is persistent, unjust treatment or control. Discrimination often leads to oppression.

There is not one single example of oppression that best defines the term as a whole. Instead, it is important to understand the many different scenarios that may constitute oppression. Some examples may include:

  • Acts of violence toward another person
  • Being emotionally dominated by another person or group
  • Being bullied
  • The “glass ceiling” dynamic in the workplace
  • Slavery
  • Women as property
  • Racial inequality
  • Lack of religious freedom
  • Denial of equal rights of people with disabilities
  • Racism, sexism, classism, etc.

Oppression and Mental Health

Both discrimination and oppression can result in problematic mental health outcomes. It is essential to recognize how these challenging life experiences can lead to mental health problems in the long term.

Dysregulated Stress Response

First and foremost, repeated exposure to instances of discrimination and oppression can lead to a dysregulated stress response. The stress response, also known as the fight or flight response, plays an essential role in preparing an individual to respond to life-threatening stimuli. It is typical for individuals to perceive experiences of discrimination as life-threatening. Once these instances begin to happen repeatedly, it can cause a person to feel as if they are constantly living on the edge.

A dysregulated stress response and associated long-term stress can lead to:

  • Weakened immune system
  • Stomach and digestive problems
  • Insomnia and other sleeping problems
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Substance use

Increased Engagement in Unhealthy Behaviors

Oppression and discrimination can also affect an individual’s mental health by increasing engagement in unhealthy behaviors and decreasing health behaviors. When individuals constantly deal with oppression, they use all of their time and energy to deal with and navigate their challenging life experiences. This dynamic inevitably leaves individuals with less energy and resources necessary to make healthy behavior choices.

As a result, individuals turn to “quick-fix” resources. In an attempt to self-medicate, they may start to partake in:

  • Smoking
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Using other substances
  • Risky sexual behaviors

Once an individual is exposed to the effects of substance use, they can quickly develop an addiction. Discrimination and oppression are not only risk factors for the development of addiction but also increase the risk of relapse in the future.

How to Heal From Instances of Oppression

Oppression is a type of trauma. To effectively heal from oppression and its effects, an individual must receive trauma-informed treatment. The majority of treatment centers now provide trauma-informed therapy as it can be assumed that most individuals are dealing with some history of trauma.

Coping with oppression and discrimination is never easy. However, there are many strategies one can use to cope with the instances of discrimination they have faced in their life.

#1. Honor your own needs first

As you have faced oppression and discrimination in your life before, you will likely come face to face with these experiences in the future. While these situations can cause you to lose your sense of identity, you must start to practice meeting your own needs today.

If you feel it is right, speak out and stand up for yourself when mistreated. If you think that speaking up would cause further harm, it is okay to walk away. Honor your own needs first.

#2. Embrace your identity

Reminding yourself that discrimination is not your fault is crucial. Allow yourself to celebrate who you are. Take time for self-care, focus on your strengths and remind yourself of your values.

#3. Seek professional support

It is vital that individuals who have experienced oppression connect with treatment resources to prevent the development of substance use disorders and achieve the best mental health outcome possible. Do not be afraid to seek out mental health support.

Casa Palmera recognizes that oppression can be devastating for mental health. We are a trauma-informed treatment center that offers treatment programs for mental health and substance use conditions. Our facility also provides specialized treatment programs specific to trauma, including transcranial magnetic stimulation. We are devoted to helping you find and maintain long-term healing and recovery. To learn more about our treatment programs, give us a call today at (855) 508-0473.


This blog is for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for medical advice. We understand that everyone’s situation is unique, and this content is to provide an overall understanding of substance use disorders. These disorders are very complex, and this post does not take into account the unique circumstances for every individual. For specific questions about your health needs or that of a loved one, seek the help of a healthcare professional.