Source Newsroom: Dick Jones Communications
Newswise — A wide array of physical and psychological conditions may result in public stigma, but certain ones are more likely to earn afflicted individuals the disapproval of society.
Substance use is considerably more stigmatized than smoking or obesity, according to a new study conducted by Lindsay Phillips, assistant professor of psychology at Albright College in Reading, Pa.
Participants were presented with one of six fictitious scenarios, in which someone named Pat either used substances, smoked cigarettes, or was obese, and was either in remission or actively facing the difficulty. Participants then responded to a questionnaire designed to gauge their desire for social distance from Pat.
“Specifically, participants rated their willingness for the individual in the fictitious scenario to marry into their family, be friends, socialize, work on a job, be a neighbor, and have one’s child date,” says Phillips. “As hypothesized, people who were actively using substances were the most highly stigmatized group, receiving a high level of reported intention to be socially distant from the individual.”
This supports past research that found substance users were more stigmatized than those with depression or schizophrenia. However, Phillips’s study uncovered surprising new information concerning stigma toward former substance users.
“Although being in remission results in substantially less stigma for smoking and obesity, stigma is only slightly decreased for individuals in remission from substance use,” says Phillips.
This finding is particularly troubling, as past studies have indicated that stigma can be a detrimental factor to the well-being of individuals with substance use disorder. Stigma towards substance users has been linked to an avoidance of seeking help and a lack of confidence in ability to refuse substances.
Phillips suggests there are ways this stigma and his harmful effects can be mitigated, however. “Interventions can address this stigma in several ways, including education of the public and education of service providers and students who one day hope to be treatment professionals.”
Additionally, Phillips believes that individuals on the receiving end of this stigma may need to be forewarned of its potential to undermine recovery efforts.
“[These findings] may raise awareness in treatment providers to help individuals explore the possibility of stigma, explore their feelings, and possibly prepare to cope with stigma to prevent relapse,” she says.
Phillips’s study will be published as a forthcoming research article in the Journal of Substance Use.