Preventing and Reducing Stigma

Region 5

The Great Lakes PTTC is committed to preventing and reducing the pervasive stigma associated with having, treating, or being in recovery from a substance use disorder.

Our efforts include:

  • Disseminating research on the impact of stigma on populations and key community sectors
  • Presenting evidence-based and theoretically sounds stigma prevention or reduction strategies
  • Spreading the message that a substance use disorder is a chronic medical condition rather than a moral failing
  • Encouraging the use of non-stigmatizing language related to substance use disorders
  • Building awareness of anti-stigma initiatives at the community and state levels in the Great Lakes Region

Purpose of this Webpage

This web page contributes to national efforts to understand and change attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that can lead to stigma and discrimination. Changing stigma in a lasting way will require coordinated efforts based on the best possible evidence. This web page provides a place to learn about the impact of stigma on vulnerable populations and offers best practices for preventing and reducing stigma with vulnerable populations within relevant community sectors.

In this website you will find information on how each of the community sectors are addressing stigma through various interventions where some are evidence and community based. Empowerment and resilience are the key tools of the various community sectors where each of them highlight the importance of the specific community sector, stigma impact and solutions. There is still greater research to be conducted on stigma, specifically on various kinds of stigma and its impact on some community sectors (first responders) than others (healthcare). The community sector information is designed to share with multiple stakeholders to increase engagement and knowledge about substance use disorder and mental health illness. 

A Basic Definition

“Stigma can be understood as an attribute, behavior, or reputation that is socially discrediting, and substance-related problems appear to be particularly susceptible to stigma.” (John F. Kelly∗, Cassandra M. Westerhoff)


Non-stigmatizing Language 

PTTC_Langugage Matters

“How we refer to individuals with substance-related conditions and that use of, and exposure to, the “abuser” label may inadvertently elicit and perpetuate stigmatizing attitudes. Because such a low proportion of individuals with these costly and harmful conditions access treatment and cite stigma as a major barrier”  (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2008) 

Find out how to use affirming language to reduce stigma and promote recovery.

Mid-America ATTC: Language Matters: Using Affirming Language

National Institute on Drug Abuse: Words Matter 

Recovery Research Institute Addictionary

Words Matter: How Language Choice Can Reduce Stigma




Stigma Basics 

Stigma Basics


Watch a recorded presentation from the Great Lakes PTTC that provides an overview of stigma and its impact on people with mental health and substance use disorders.

Stigma Basics Recorded Presentation










Great lakes region

Great Lakes Region Statewide and Large Scale Anti-Stigma Campaigns

Click here for an overview of anti-stigma regional efforts.









How Community Sectors Are Addressing Stigma




Stigma disproportionately influences health outcomes and mental well-being for individuals with mental health or substance use disorder (SUD). Fear of being judged and/or discriminated against can prevent people from getting the help they need. Stigma is complex due to various societal and research definitions, including the fact that it comes in many different forms. Stigma is not limited to one setting or condition; rather, it is cross-cutting in all communities and populations.

The best approach to stop or prevent stigma is through cross-cutting practices such as: 

  • Increase awareness and knowledge about SUD and mental health 
  • Educate about stigmatizing language and its impact on population health 
  • Enhance support and resources to entities who are working with SUD and mental health populations 
  • Engage various community partners and stakeholders in conversations about SUD and mental health 
  • Provide opportunities to interact with people with substance use or mental health disorders (contact-based education programs)
  • "Promote peer programs in which people who have disclosed their conditions offer their experience and expertise to individuals and families, programs that range from informal peer-led programs to peer specialized services in health services systems." (National Academies Press, 2016) 



Behavioral Health


Criminal Justice 


Faith Leaders

First Responders 


Law Enforcement

Policy Makers




Great Lakes PTTC Products: Preventing and Reducing Stigma


Preventing the Spread of Stigma Part 1, Changing Attitudes & Terminology

Preventing the Spread of Stigma Part 2, Statewide Anti-Stigma Campaigns  





SAMHSA Resources for Preventing and Reducing Stigma

National Recovery Month increases awareness and understanding of mental health and substance use disorders and promotes recovery. 


Resources from NIDA

Addressing the Stigma That Surrounds Addiction     Nora's Blog, April 22, 2020

Stigma Resources 

Words Matter-Terms to Use and Avoid When Talking About Addiction


Research Research

A growing body of research explores the impact of prevention on stigma. 

Click here for a list of peer-reviewed studies. 










People talking in a groupOther Resources for Preventing and Reducing Stigma

Related resources offer guidance on use of non-stigmatizing language, stigma and empowerment, and the impact of stigma in underserved populations. 
Click here to learn more






Page Update: November 13, 2020