Stigma Around Opioids

Understanding Opioid Use Disorder and the stigma that it creates is a vital step in the recovery process. According to the American Psychological Association, “stigma is the shame or disgrace attached to something regarded as socially unacceptable, a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.”

Sometimes it’s easy to believe that opioid abuse is a personal problem and someone can simply stop the addictive behavior if they truly want to. But, this resulting stigma feeds into an individual’s shame and guilt, and might prevent them from seeking the tools they need for recovery.

The Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, a part of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, has released a few main points relating to substance abuse-related stigma:

  • “Addiction-related” stigma is a powerful, shame-based mark of disgrace and reproach.
  • Stigma is generated and perpetuated by prejudicial attitudes and beliefs.
  • Stigma promotes discrimination among individuals at risk for, experiencing, or in recovery from addiction, as well as individuals associated with them.
  • People with substance-abuse disorders and people in recovery are ostracized, discriminated against, and deprived of basic human rights.
  • Individuals who are stigmatized often internalize inappropriate attitudes and practices, making them part of their self-identity.

Why stigma matters

You may be familiar with the life-saving medication, Naloxone. “One barrier to widespread access to the medication…was the stigma around the word ‘overdose,’ writes Chris Elkin, senior writer and researcher for “Doctors believed patients would worry that the doctor didn’t trust them or considered them an addict if they prescribed it.”

Think about how many lives could have been saved.

“People with substance use disorders and people in recovery are more likely to seek treatment and maintain sobriety when they develop social connections,” writes Elkin. “Isolation, discrimination and prejudice are obstacles to social inclusion.”

What can I do?


  • Opioid Use Disorder is a psychiatric disease and often requires an extensive recovery process.
  • Supporting a loved one is important to their recovery and helps to lessen the stigma they may feel.
  • Failure to keep sobriety or continuing abuse of opioids is not a reflection on the person’s character.
  • Recovery looks different for everyone and everyone is deserving of treatment.
  • Avoid hurtful language. Terms like “junkie” and “addict” only contribute to the stigma of OUD and other substance-use disorders.

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