Lesson 11: Strategies to Reduce the Stigma of Substance Use

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In the previous lesson, we examined the ubiquitous nature of the stigma in society associated with substance use and substance use disorders, and the impact of this stigma on those people with substance use disorders who are accessing and completing treatment services. We also recognized how societal structures inform our own professional attitudes and beliefs towards substance use, which can have an impact on the experience of people accessing and participating in our services. Last, we examined the effect that stigma has on therapeutic relationships and treatment compliance/completion.

In this lesson, we consider strategies for reducing stigma and how you can take a leadership role in advocacy in your workplaces and communities. The readings and activities for this lesson are intended to provide further understanding of the role stigma has played in the development of priorities and the provision of care to persons experiencing substance use and concurrent disorders. Such understanding will lead to an appreciation of the current approaches taken and the challenges and needs faced by clinicians and clients/patients/families alike. A review of the initiatives for combating stigma will prepare you to be an advocate for stigma reduction.


Lesson 11 addresses the following topics:

  • Strategies for reducing stigma in the system of care
  • Advocating to reduce stigma
  • The role of the media in substance use stigma

Learning Outcomes

After you complete this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Design strategies for reducing stigma in substance use delivery systems.
  • Design strategies for reducing stigma at the community level.
  • Advocate for change to reduce stigma related to substance use, substance use disorders, and concurrent disorders.
  • Examine how media influences societal attitudes about substance use.


Web links

BBC Newsnight. (Producer). (2012, Aug 10). Russell Brand/Peter Hitchens drugs debate (BBC Newsnight, 2012.08.10.Fri). Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0IqVohFEAfo.

British Columbia Ministry of Health Services and Ministry of Children and Family Development. (2010). Healthy minds, healthy people: A ten-year plan to address mental health and substance use in British Columbia. Retrieved from http://www.health.gov.bc.ca/library/publications/year/2010/healthy_minds_healthy_people.pdf.

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. (2005). Beyond the label: An educational kit to promote awareness and understanding of the impact of stigma on people living with concurrent mental health and substance use problems. Retrieved from http://knowledgex.camh.net/ke_workspace/oih/mha_capla/chile2011/Shared%20Documents/Componente%20Presencial/Stigma%20-%20Estigma/CAMH%202005%20Beyond%20the%20Label%20Toolkit.pdf.

Available Through TRU Library

Buchman, D., & Reiner, P. (2009). Stigma and addiction: Being and becoming. American Journal of Bioethics-Neuroscience, 9(9), 18–19.

Cape, G. (2003). Addiction, stigma and movies. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavia, 107, 163–169.

Livingston, J., Milne, T., Fang, M. L., & Amari, E. (2012). The effectiveness of interventions for reducing stigma related to substance use disorders: A systematic review. Addiction, 107(1), 39–50.

Van Brakel, W. H. (2006). Measuring health-related stigma—A literature review. Psychology Health Medicine, 11, 307–334.

Activity Checklist

Following is a checklist of the learning activities you will be completing in Lesson 11. You may find it useful for planning your work.

✔ Activity

☐ Activity 1: Reducing stigma in the system of care

☐ Activity 2: Being an advocate

☐ Activity 3: The role of media in propagating stigma