Addiction doesn’t discriminate

Stigma remains a major barrier to accessing treatment. With addiction, society retreats from the care and compassion we extend to every other health condition, with a response that often blames the individual – ‘it’s their fault’.

These views harden our resolve, but there’s another side to this story. Stigma creates walls and barriers, and it seals off hope, leaving the person alone and without help.

Stigma intensifies the isolation. Problems progress, becoming more expensive to address, more complex than the health system recognises, more distressing for families behind closed doors. Stigma perpetuates a judgemental response to a health condition where the answer is healing through compassion and holistic care. Stigma encourages access to be denied. 

On average, a person waits for up to 18 years before making the decision, often due to the intervention of others – that they need to seek help. For one of the most common health conditions in our society, this is unacceptable.

Quick facts:

Facts about stigma in addiction

  • Illicit drug dependence has been ranked the most stigmatised health condition worldwide, with alcohol dependence ranked fourth.
  • Addictive disorders are more likely than any other mental health condition to be seen as a personal choice, sign of weakness, or ‘moral failure’.
  • People with co-occurring mental health and substance use problems face greater stigma than people with either disorder alone.
  • Stigma is pervasive: similar stereotypical beliefs about addiction have been identified among health professionals (including GPs and mental health workers), the general public, as well as people seeking treatment for addiction. 
  • People who inject drugs typically face greater stigma than any other groups. 
  • Negative stereotypes (e.g., that people with alcohol and drug problems lack motivation) can limit the availability, quality, and outcomes of treatment. Stigma can also lead to people with addiction having physical health conditions misattributed to their alcohol or drug use.
  • Even after people cease using drugs, stigmatising attitudes can persist in health and welfare services, as well as criminal law and employment settings
  • Campaigns to reduce stigma are likely to be ineffective unless developed in consultation with people who use drugs.