The stigma of alcohol dependence compared with other mental disorders: a review of population studies

Alcohol Alcohol. 2011 Mar-Apr;46(2):105-12. doi: 10.1093/alcalc/agq089. Epub 2010 Dec 18.


Aims: Stigma is likely to aggravate the severe medical and social consequences of alcohol dependence. We aim to explore the characteristics of the alcohol dependence stigma by comparing it with the stigma of other conditions.

Methods: On the basis of a systematic literature search, we identified 17 representative population studies published before July 2010 that examine aspects of the stigma of alcoholism and simultaneously of other mental, medical or social conditions. Seven surveys were located in Europe, five in North America, three in New Zealand and one each in Brazil and Ethiopia, respectively.

Results: Compared with people suffering from other, substance-unrelated mental disorders, alcohol-dependent persons are less frequently regarded as mentally ill, are held much more responsible for their condition, provoke more social rejection and more negative emotions, and they are at particular risk for structural discrimination. Only with regard to being a danger, they are perceived to be at a similarly negative level to that of people suffering from schizophrenia.

Conclusion: Alcoholism is a particularly severely stigmatized mental disorder. Cultural differences are likely, but under-researched. We discuss possible reasons for the differences between the stigma of alcoholism and of other mental diseases and the consequences for targeted anti-stigma initiatives.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcoholism / epidemiology
  • Alcoholism / psychology*
  • Character
  • Dangerous Behavior
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology
  • Mental Disorders / psychology*
  • Psychological Distance*
  • Social Stigma*
  • Stereotyping*
  • Stress, Psychological