S t i g m a , D i s c r i m i n a t i o n & S u b s t a n c e U s e
Discrimination stops people from seeking help
Another serious impact of stigma and discrimination highlighted in this research project was that
it stopped people from seeking or using the services that could help them to stabilize and
improve their lives. Other research has found that stigma is a major reason people do not seek
elp to reduce or stop their substance use.
Further, people who see themselves as responsible
for their own issues (a common discriminatory message) are less likely to seek help.
with alcohol/other drug issues often have multiple health and social issues for which they may
need help coping with or overcoming. However, if people do not even try to use health and
social services because they are afraid of how they will be treated, an important resource for
stabilizing their lives has been lost.
Related to this issue, the most common strategy used by focus group participants to help cope
with the negative impacts of stigma and discrimination was to increase their use of alcohol/other
drugs as a way to dull or numb the pain they were experiencing.
“Discrimination leads to more use, not to people quitting.”
It is unfortunate that the stigmatization of people who use alcohol/other drugs is for many
perpetuating their substance use as well as to preventing their seeking help. In that regard,
implementing strategies to reduce stigma and discrimination, and that focus on helping people to
feel worthy of receiving help and support, are important.
Peer support is an important coping strategy
In addition to finding ways to reduce or eliminate stigma and discrimination, strategies are
needed to help people cope with the negative impacts they are experiencing now. Focus group
participants highlighted the important role that peers play in helping them to cope. Participants
felt that other people who had been through similar experiences were more likely to empathize
with what they were going through, and less likely to judge them for their substance use.
In this context, peers include friends or acquaintances who also use alcohol/other drugs as “peer
workers” who are clients paid by agencies to help deliver programs. Peer workers are often used
in harm reduction and other programs as they have been shown to be effective in helping to open
conversations and lend support, which provides an important link between people who use drugs
and health and social service services.
Community outreach, in which peers provide
education and support, is recognized as an effective strategy to reach people who use drugs and
reduce risky behavior related to disease transmission.
Kelly et al. (2009), ibid.
Corrigan et al. (2009), ibid.
Latkin, C.A., Forman, V., Knowlton, A., and Sherman, S. (2003). Norms, social networks and HIV–related risk behaviours among
urban disadvantaged drug users. Social Science & Medicine, 56, 465-476.
Kerr, T., Small, W., Peace, W., Douglas, D., Pierre, A., & Wood, E. (2006). Harm reduction by a “user-run” organization: A case
study of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU). International Journal of Drug Policy, 17, 61-69.
Coyle, S.L., Needle, R.H., and Normand, J. (1998). Outreach-based HIV prevention for injection drug users: A review of
published outcome data. Public Health Reports, 113 (1), 19-30.