The words and attitudes that we use in our everyday interactions influence how people feel about themselves and how others treat them. These words hurt and cause shame, resistance to treatment, and poor health outcomes for people with addictions or who are in recovery.

You may not even realize it, but there is stigma toward people with substance use disorders (SUD), and this can harm them! Stigma keeps people from reaching out for helping, getting treatment, and sharing their experiences with other people.



Sometimes we may use stigmatizing language and not even realize we’re doing it. Words matter. Try some of the replacements listed below.

Stigma means negative views or ideas about people with certain traits. Stigma is common and harmful. It can lead to fear, discrimination, and negative thoughts about oneself. There are different types of stigma: public stigma, self-stigma, and structural stigma.

  • Public stigma is ideas and attitudes among the general public that can lead to fear, rejection, avoidance, or discrimination. For instance: “People with history of addiction are unmotivated and can’t be trusted.”
  • Self-stigma is internal negative thoughts or beliefs that lead to decreased self-esteem, self-worth, and send of belonging. For instance: “I can’t hold down a good job because of my past mistakes.”
  • Structural stigma involves rules, policies, and practices that restrict people’s rights and opportunities. For instance: “It’s a policy that we don’t hire people with past drug offences on their record.”

All humans have subconscious ideas about people that automatically influence their feelings, assumptions, and actions. This happens because our brains create shortcuts to help us make effective decisions. Unfortunately, these shortcuts are often based on faulty or incomplete information that labels, stereotypes, excludes, and discriminates against others. There are some easy things you can do to fight stigma.

Recognize judgement or bias toward a person or group of people and call it when you see it. 

Actively work to change your attitude and those of others around you. 

Offer positive support for people around you who are experiencing stigma.

Challenge the stigma associated with people in recovery. Shift to a strength-based view. For instance: “John’s commitment to his recovery is inspiring!”

One of the most effective treatments for SUD is medication-assisted treatment (MAT) – certain prescription medications that, when combined with recovery supports and counseling – can help people maintain their recovery from drug or alcohol addiction.

Medications like methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone are among the best tools for recovery from addiction. But there is sometimes stigma against these meds. Some may say MAT is “just trading one drug for another.” This is wrong! MAT can be lifesaving treatment much like insulin is for diabetes.

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