The stigma of addiction
People living with substance use disorder experience stigma every day.
Stigmas about addiction can be negative, biased feelings, words or behaviors towards people living with addiction. Stigma creates barriers– and can prevent people from getting treatment or staying in recovery.
What does stigma look like? Stigma can be…
- Personal stigma: self-shame or hate, or feeling unworthy of help or recovery.
- Social stigma: hurtful labels, rejection, isolation and negative perceptions about people battling addiction.
- Institutional stigma: when people with substance use disorder are treated differently by health care providers, media, or law enforcement.
To support a #StateWithoutStigMA, we need to address false impressions about addiction, treatment options and long-term recovery.
How can I be anti-stigma?
Understand that addiction is a chronic illness or disorder.Addiction is a chronic, treatable illness, not a personal choice. It makes long lasting changes to the brain and the body. Over time, these changes increase desire and eventually make it difficult or impossible to control the desire to use substances.The good news is that treatment for addiction works and recovery is possible.
Know that words matter. When talking about addiction, be sure to choose your words carefully.Using hurtful or damaging words – like junkie, dirty, or addict – stigmatizes people with addiction. When talking about addiction, remember to use words like substance use disorder (SUD) or illness.
Support all types of recovery and treatment, including medication assisted recovery.
People choose different treatments and paths for their recovery. What works for one person may not work for another.
Some people use medication as part of their treatment for addiction, including for opioid use disorder. Medications for opioid use disorder include methadone, buprenorphine, and injectable naltrexone. Treatment with medication can be short-term or long-term (known as maintenance). Some people may even take medication for opioid use disorder for their lifetime, just as they would take medicine for other chronic illnesses.
To learn more about medications for opioid use disorder, visit The Massachusetts Substance Use Helpline Resources.
Show your support. Invite others to join you.
Share the hashtag #StateWithoutStigMA on social media to show your support.
Order materials for free from the MA Health Promotion Clearinghouse to display your support in your community, business, or home!
Resources for providers
Research shows that stigma can affect how an individual with a substance use disorder (SUD) is treated. Stopping stigma can break down barriers to treatment and save lives.
What can I do as a provider to be anti-stigma?
- Pledge to use non-stigmatizing language in your practice and across your organization. The Grayken Center at Boston Medical Center offers a Words Matter pledge for institutions to help end stigma. Download and take the pledge, post it in your workplace and share with your team.
- Display a window cling and poster at your workplace to show support for a #StateWithoutStigMA.
- Provide resources on treatment and recovery in your practice – you can order free materials from the MA Health Promotion Clearinghouse.