Educating Yourself and Others
Two main factors affect the burden of stigma placed on a particular disease or disorder: perceived control that a person has over the condition and perceived fault in acquiring the condition. When we believe a person has acquired their illness through no fault of their own, and/or that they have little control over it, we typically attach no stigma to either the person or the illness. Consider hard-to-treat cancers, for example. By contrast, many people mistakenly believe mental health conditions, including substance misuse disorders, are both within a person’s control and partially their fault. For these reasons, they frequently attach more stigmas to them. The potential for stigma is greater still when someone is using an illegal substance, which carries the additional perception of criminality. (SAMHSA, CAPT)
People with substance use disorders, in particular, are viewed by the public as weak-willed (Schomerus et al., 2011) although evidence shows that they are as likely to adhere to treatment as people with other chronic medical conditions, such as hypertension or diabetes (McLellan et al., 2000).
For people with a substance use disorders, stigma disproportionately influences health outcomes and mental well-being. Fear of being judged and/or discriminated against can prevent people with substance use disorders, or who are at risk of substance use disorders, from getting the help they need. It can also prevent caregivers and others in the position to help from providing needed services, including medical care.
Consider the following:
- Substance use disorder is among the most stigmatized conditions in the US and around the world.
- People who have substance use disorders are often treated differently, including lower expectations for health outcomes.
- People with a substance use disorder who expect or experience stigma have poorer outcomes.
- People who experience stigma are less likely to seek out treatment services and access those services. When they do, people who experience stigma are more likely to drop out of care earlier. Both of these factors compound and lead to worse outcomes overall. (SAMHSA, CAPT)