Objective: Although among the most prevalent psychiatric conditions, alcoholism seems to be neglected within the current debate on mental illness stigma. We establish the state of current research on public attitudes towards alcohol dependent people.
Methods: In an extensive search of the literature, we identified 49 population studies on this topic between 1948 and 2008. 27 studies contained relevant information from Western countries and were included in this review.
Results: Although most people regard alcoholism as an illness, there is a strong tendency to blame those affected for their condition. Psycho-social causal attributions prevail over biologic explanations. Most people regard alcohol dependent persons as unpredictable and dangerous. The desire for social distance is stronger towards alcohol dependent persons than towards those with other psychiatric diagnoses such as depression or schizophrenia; only those addicted to illegal drugs suffer stronger rejection. Preferences of the public for resource allocation within the health care system put alcohol dependent patients at a potential disadvantage.
Conclusions: Alcoholism is a severely stigmatized condition. In order to change the stigma of alcoholism, studies exploring theoretical models and mechanisms of stigmatization seem necessary.
Copyright Georg Thieme Verlag KG Stuttgart . New York.