Exploring the Public Stigma of Substance Use Disorder

Illicit drug use disorder is one of the most stigmatised health conditions in the world. Stigmatisation is the mark of shame, disgrace or disapproval. It can affect people’s self-esteem and confidence, help disrupt their family relationships, contribute to feelings of isolation and rejection and greatly hinder recovery.

A recent study, published in the Journal of Addiction Research and Theory, has examined the structure of the public stigma of substance use disorder. The Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) was conducted in Chicago. The researchers ran focus groups with members of the public including current drug users, former drug users, family members, and service providers. The discussions that were held examined the themes of stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination of individuals with substance use disorder.

Results from the study found that stereotype themes for people with SUD included dangerous, self-destructive, hopeless and worthless, and no job potential. Themes for prejudice included fear, pity, confusion, and indifference. Themes for discrimination included avoidance, being suspicious, and complete rejection.

Stigma can lead to negative experiences in health care, personal relationships, employment, and education. It can prevent successful recovery. There is an urgent need for further research to understand the basis for public stigma as well as strategies that can be put in place to reduce stigma toward this population.

Citation
Nieweglowski, K., Corrigan, P. W., Tyas, T., Tooley, A., Dubke, R., Lara, J., ... & Addiction Stigma Research Team. (2018). Exploring the public stigma of substance use disorder through community-based participatory research. Addiction Research & Theory, 26(4), 323-329.
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