Stigma and substance use disorders: an international phenomenon

Curr Opin Psychiatry. 2017 Sep;30(5):378-388. doi: 10.1097/YCO.0000000000000351.


Purpose of review: To collect and update published information on the stigma associated with substance abuse in nonclinical samples, which has not been recently reviewed.

Recent findings: Searching large databases, a total of only 17 articles were published since 1999, with the majority of studies conducted outside the United States. Using major stigma concepts from a sociological framework (stereotyping, devaluation in terms of status loss, discrimination, and negative emotional reactions), the studies reviewed predominantly indicated that the public holds very stigmatized views toward individuals with substance use disorders (SUDs), and that the level of stigma was higher toward individuals with SUDs than toward those with other psychiatric disorders.

Summary: The prevalence of SUDs is increasing in the US general population, but these disorders remain seriously undertreated. Stigma can reduce willingness of policymakers to allocate resources, reduce willingness of providers in nonspecialty settings to screen for and address substance abuse problems, and may limit willingness of individuals with such problems to seek treatment. All of these factors may help explain why so few individuals with SUDs receive treatment. Public education that reduces stigma and provides information about treatment is needed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Prevalence
  • Social Stigma*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology*
  • United States / epidemiology