Addiction and Stigma

Drugs are causing harm in our community. Specifically, opioid use is causing a public health crisis here and across Canada. In fact, it’s now the number one cause of death among 18- to 34-year-olds.

Many of us have made assumptions about what someone who uses drugs looks like and acts like. But as our collective understanding of addiction evolves, so should the way we talk about drug use.

Addiction is not a choice someone makes. There are many reasons someone might start using an addictive substance: teenagers pressured into trying something once, only to never get a second chance. People trying to cope with tragedies or abuse. People who have been prescribed a drug by a healthcare provider and then can’t stop taking it.

In short: people who are your neighbours; your friends; your family members. Anyone could be using drugs, and they might be doing so alone and in secret.

If we want to find a solution to the opioid crisis and reduce deaths from overdose, we must address the stigma around drug use, and address addiction as the health issue it is.  

What is stigma?

Stigma is the negative attitudes and beliefs someone faces because of their circumstances. Stigma can include discrimination, prejudice, judging, labelling, isolating and stereotyping.

Stigma makes it difficult for people who use drugs to come forward and get help.

Everyone can work to reduce stigma. Follow these tips from the Government of Canada:

You can help end stigma by:

  • Learning about substance use disorders and remembering that substance use disorders are a medical condition, deserving of care and treatment just like any other
  • Being respectful, compassionate and caring to those who use drugs
  • Not judging someone who uses drugs, as you may not know the whole story of their journey
  • Being open-minded and not letting opinions or assumptions colour the way we think of someone
  • Changing the way we talk about drug use, and choosing our words carefully

If someone you know needs someone to talk to, and to listen, that person could be you.

Learn how to talk to a friend or family member about drugs.

Read more about stigma and how to stop it.