Stigma and substance use disorders: A clinical, research, and advocacy agenda

Am Psychol. 2020 Dec;75(9):1300-1311. doi: 10.1037/amp0000744.


The United States is currently experiencing an opioid epidemic, with deaths due to opioid overdoses persisting in many communities. This epidemic is the latest wave in a series of global substance use-related public health crises. As a fundamental cause of health inequities, stigma leads to the development of substance use disorders (SUDs), undermines SUD treatment efforts, and drives persistent disparities within these crises. Given their expertise in mental and behavioral health, psychologists are uniquely positioned to play a frontline role in addressing SUD stigma. The goal of this paper is to set an agenda for psychologists to address SUD stigma through clinical care, research, and advocacy. To set the stage for this agenda, key concepts are introduced related to stigma and SUDs, and evidence is reviewed regarding associations between stigma and substance use-related outcomes. As clinicians, psychologists have opportunities to promote resilience to stigma to prevent the development of SUDs, and leverage acceptance and mindfulness approaches to reduce internalized stigma among people with SUDs. As researchers, psychologists can clarify the experiences and impacts of stigma among people with SUDs over time and adapt the stigma-reduction toolbox to address SUD stigma. As advocates, psychologists can call for changes in structural stigma such as policies that criminalize people with SUDs, protest the intentional use of SUD stigma, and adopt stigma-free language in professional and social settings. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved).

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Public Health
  • Social Stigma*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology*
  • United States / epidemiology