Side profile of a sad upset woman looking down with many fingers pointing at her back

What is Stigma?

Stigma is a societal process in which people are labeled, set apart, and linked to undesirable characteristics, and justifications are constructed for degrading, rejection and exclusion.

Patients presenting with substance use problems also experience blame, judgment, and discrimination from various others.

Do You Stigmatize Others?

Even the most well-meaning individual can say something inappropriate, have incorrect assumptions, and consider things that cause others to be stigmatized because of their addiction. Without even realizing it, we may have beliefs, attitudes, assumptions or thoughts, or use words that contribute to the stigmatization of others. The following questions can help you to examine your own potential for stigmatizing others:

What Are Your Personal Beliefs About Why People Become Addicted?

Do you secretly believe that dependent people are pathetic or lazy? If you are in recovery, do you believe that you are superior to others who are still struggling with addiction?

Do You Accept Certain Types Of Addictions More Than Others?

Do you think that addiction to illegal drugs is different from or worse than addiction to legal drugs? Do you believe that it is stress-free to recover from certain addictions than others?

Do You Believe That Some People Are Beyond Help?

Do you believe that some people are condemned to a life of dependence because of their high-risk factors? Do you believe that some people will simply never be independent?

Do You Believe That Certain Drug Treatment Approaches Are Better Than Others?

Do you believe that abstinence-based approaches are acceptable but maintenance programs are not—or vice versa?

Do You Believe That Recovery Must “look” A Certain Way?

Are you quick to criticize the actions of others and deduce all their behaviors through the lens of recovery? If you are in recovery, do you evaluate other people’s recovery based on your path to recovery?

Perceived discrimination by others leads to:

  • Diminished self-esteem
  • Weakened personal empowerment
  • Suspicion and evasion of health care
  • Reduced provider-patient rapport
  • Deferrals in access to care
  • Lessened likelihood of finishing treatment