Why Stigma Matters?

“Stigma makes people feel worthless, depressed, dehumanised and isolated”

Research tells us that drug related stigma can make it extremely difficult for people to move beyond their addiction.  

The stigma experienced by people dependent on drugs can prevent them seeking help and support.  It can push them into isolation.

In interviews with 33 people, an Irish researcher (O’Reilly 2014) found that ‘experiencing shame through drug use and associated behaviours resulted in them withdrawing from family and community and becoming more and more isolated. This isolation was also associated with depression and suicide attempts’.

Perceived stigma, where people assume that attitudes towards them will be negative, can also inhibit people from seeking support. These perceptions are generally based on observations that society looks down on them and the anticipation of being stigmatised can prevent people reaching out.

The people who participated in a series of Citywide focus groups said that the experience of stigma made them feel humiliated, worthless and degraded. Across all the groups we worked with, people said that experiencing stigma made them want to use drugs again.

These feelings are compounded by the findings from public opinion surveys across the world, including a Red C poll commissioned by Citywide in late 2016 to get a sense of people’s attitudes towards drug use and people who use drugs and drugs.  The majority of people regarded people with problematic drug use – as frightening, dangerous and unpredictable.  Crucially, public opinion also shows that the majority believe that people who use drugs only have themselves to blame.  It is this aspect that researchers say is key to the extreme stigma associated with drug addiction.

The one, sure way to break down stigma is to ensure that people have a greater understanding about the complexity and nature of addiction.  Addiction is a health issue, not a crime.  See Citywide.ie for a range of publications.

Drug Use as an Eroding Master Status 
Negative labelling that socially redefines people to the extent that it overshadows all of their other personal characteristics is explored by Charlie Lloyd, a Senior Lecturer in the University of York’s Department of Health Sciences. In the paper Sinning and Sinned Against: The Stigmatisation of Problem Drug Users (2010), he suggests that “this phenomenon becomes much more serious when the stigma takes centre stage, to the obscuration of the rest of a person’s identity: when it becomes a ‘master status’.  Problem drug use, he concludes, is one such master status.