Removing Stigma

A yellow wall that has the shadow of a women wearing a hat cast on it.

What is Stigma

Stigma is a perceived negative attribute that causes someone to think less of a person.

Stigma can have negative outcomes for individuals and groups and can often lead to poorer health outcomes overall.

Stigma can lead to loss of status, increased discrimination and isolation.

Stigma can negatively impact individuals’ relationships with friends and family.

Real or perceived stigma can affect a persons ability to access services like healthcare or housing.

People can be stigmatised or discriminated against because of race, class, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, drug use, sexual behaviour, HIV status, mental and physical health.

Language guide for talking about drug & alcohol use

Avoid using Instead use
Addict Person who uses drugs (PWUD) or person who is dependent on drugs
Junkie Person who injects drugs (PWID)
Drug abuse or substance abuse Substance use or drug dependence
Clean Sober or abstinent

The intersection of stigma, inequality and social determinants

The stigma associated with substance use can be compounded by other forms of stigma and discrimination related to race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, class, HIV status, incarceration history, poverty and more.

Substance use should be viewed within the larger context of society and the discrimination and stigma people face in all areas of their life.

Challenging Stigma

Practical things we can do to challenge stigma include:

Individual Level

  • Examine your own internal biases, where does this come from? Why?
  • Be an active bystander – when you hear or see discriminatory behavior, stand up against it.
  • Use appropriate language – person first always

Community Level

  • Centre the voices of people who use substances.
  • Support advocacy efforts around substances and people who use substances.