What is stigma?

Stigma is a discrimination against an identifiable group of people, a place, or a nation. Stigma about people with SUD might include inaccurate or unfounded thoughts like they are dangerous, incapable of managing treatment, or at fault for their condition.

Where does stigma come from?

For people with an SUD, stigma may stem from antiquated and inaccurate beliefs that addiction is a moral failing, instead of what we know it to be—a chronic, treatable disease from which patients can recover and continue to lead healthy lives.

How does stigma affect people with SUD?

  • Feeling stigmatized can reduce the willingness of individuals with SUD to seek treatment.
  • Stigmatizing views of people with SUD are common; this stereotyping can lead others to feel pity, fear, anger, and a desire for social distance from people with an SUD.
  • Stigmatizing language can negatively influence health care provider perceptions of people with SUD, which can impact the care they provide.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    — National Institute on Drug Abuse

Stigma and Harm Reduction

Our language can have a lasting impact on the people we intereact with in our lives, both personally and professionally. Individuals who suffer from or at most risk of a substance use disorder often endure a great deal of stigmatizing language in their daily lives. We are trying to change that!

How can we change stigmatizing behavior?

  • When talking to people impacted by SUD, use non-stigmatizing language that reflects an accurate, science-based understanding of SUD.
  • Encourage health professionals to “take all steps necessary to reduce the potential for stigma and negative bias.” Lead by example.
  • Use person-first language and let individuals choose how they are described. Person-first language removes language that equates people to their condition or has negative connotations. For example, “person with a substance use disorder” has a neutral tone and distinguishes the person from his or her diagnosis.

What else should I keep in mind?

It is recommended that “substance use” be used to describe all substances, including alcohol and other drugs, and that clinicians refer to severity specifiers (e.g., mild, moderate, severe) to indicate the severity of the SUD. This language also supports documentation of accurate clinical assessment and development of effective treatment plans. When talking about treatment plans with people with SUD and their loved ones, be sure to use evidence-based language instead of referring to treatment as an intervention.                                             

 — National Institute on Drug Abuse

Community Anti-Stigma Survey

As part of an anti-stigma pilot through the Addiction Policy Forum, we will use the information gathered and analyzed to guide the work that we do as a youth prevention coalition. The goals are Addiction Policy Forum’s Anti-Stigma Initiative are to: 

  1. Reduce addiction stigma, including stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination intent.

  2. Increase knowledge about addiction in their communities.

  3. Improve helping behaviors towards individuals with a substance use disorder.

  4. Identify levels of addiction stigma in a community to establish a baseline indicator.