People who use substances are diverse community members who come from all walks of life – they are parents, children, friends, co-workers, and neighbours. People who use substances are well aware of the impact they are having on society and their loved ones. They experience feelings of guilt and shame related to their use. They also judge themselves and others who use drugs. These judgements and feelings of shame add to the many barriers that many people with substance use disorders face in getting the support and services they need.
Stigma is the process of unjust devaluing and discrimination of people on the basis of particular characteristics (e.g., race, gender, mental health, substance use) in ways that socially exclude those individuals from mainstream society. Stigma includes negative attitudes and beliefs about a group of people due to their behaviours or circumstances in life. It includes discrimination, prejudice, judging, labelling, excluding and stereotyping. This further contributes to feelings of hopelessness, shame and isolation. Because of these negative feelings, stigma increases the likelihood that a person will hide their substance use from others, use alone or in an unsafe way, and avoid seeking help from others, even when they want to.
Stigma can destroy self-esteem and relationships, make it harder to access treatment, jobs and housing, and leads to discrimination and isolation.
Health Canada, 2018
Stigma impacts people with substance use disorders, as well as their family members, peers, service providers, and our entire community. Stigma also further isolates individuals with substance use disorders, makes it harder for people with substance use disorders to enter treatment, and contributes to their continued use. By working to stop stigma, we can build a healthier, more caring Brant/Brantford. Treat people with substance use disorders with dignity and respect to help build their sense of autonomy and control over their own lives. This will contribute to their sense of self-esteem, pride, and desire for change.