Essay on Substance Abuse With Special Populations

Published: 2021/11/22
Number of words: 1223

For a long time, substance use disorders, addiction, and mental disorders have been major problems facing the healthcare sector. It cannot be disputed that these conditions have a huge toll on their victims and massively hamper their productivity. Worth noting is that first responders have not been spared from the undesired effects of substance use disorders. Their work usually involves responding and providing urgent help in emergencies that can be life-threatening in most situations. Some of the events that they respond to include motor accidents, fire breakouts, getting people out of crime or danger zones, and other traumatic experiences. The demanding and emotionally draining nature of their work predisposes them to substance use which usually progresses to severe levels. It is saddening that the efforts put in place to resolve the crisis of substance use among first responders face many hurdles. One of the key hurdles is stigma, a phenomenon that greatly violates the victims’ dignity and jeopardizes treatment. Delving into major issues surrounding stigma directed towards first responders with substance use disorders will be insightful.

Ways of Demonstrating Stigma towards People with Addiction

Simply put, stigma is any discriminatory behavior or prejudicial attitude against people with a given condition. According to Jenifer Wogen and Maria Teresa Restrepo (2020), people with mental health and substance use disorders often become victims of stigmatization. Similarly, people with other health conditions such as obesity, HIV/AIDS, and cancer among others have been victims of stigmatization for many decades. Stigma is complex since it can be manifested in various ways. Needless to say, regardless of the way stigma is discriminated, the effects are similar and anyone has an equal chance of falling victim.

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Stigma can be demonstrated towards people with addiction and related disorders from the public, structural and self- point of view. Public stigma is the collective prejudice and discrimination against people with addiction from society at large. This type of discrimination is commonly fueled by misconceptions about people with addiction and other disorders, an aspect that cultivates negative behaviors directed towards them (Restrepo, 2020). Structural stigma, on the other hand, occurs at the institutional level and is often cultivated by policies that restrict people with addiction and other disorders from accessing some opportunities. Lastly, self-stigma is demonstrated when a person with addiction internalizes the prejudice directed at him/her from the public which leads to separation from society (Restrepo, 2020). Also important is there are common factors that aggravate all these forms of discrimination. One of such factors is stereotyping which refers to ascribing negative attributes to people with addiction. Another common one is discrimination which can be described as negative treatment towards people with addiction and related disorders. All these factors have a synergistic effect when building stigma and its detrimental effects.

Effects of Stigma

Researchers have extensively explored the negative implications of stigma on its victims. First responders, like all other populations, are not an exception to these effects. Even worse is that the effects of stigma are multidimensional since they affect many spheres of a person’s life that include self-perception, social life, and work-life among others. The overall effect of stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination against people with substance use disorders, mental disorders, and related conditions is alienation from other people and failure to seek treatment. Self-stigma for instance massively deteriorates one’s self-esteem, an aspect that leads to devaluation and alienation of self. As such, the victim’s self-view is tainted leads to dispiriting and decreased quality of life. Furthermore, stigma has been established to worsen the condition of victims and predisposes them to other conditions such as stress, depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder (Borenstein, 2020).

The social life of many people with addiction and related disorders has also been enormously affected. Many people believe that people with addiction bear personal responsibility for their condition without acknowledging the struggles they face on a day-to-day basis (Restrepo, 2020). As a result, most people are angered by people with addiction and are reluctant to be associated with them thus forcing them to be lonely. This principle also applies in their family life. It is a common phenomenon for people with addiction and related disorders to undergo divorce because they are incompetent to perform their roles in their families. This alienates them further and leaves them with no one to seek help from. Furthermore, stigma derails the self-efficacy of people with addiction hence their production in work. This lucidly discusses the multifaceted effects of stigma amongst people with substance use disorders, mental disorders, and addiction. As such, they will be reluctant to seek treatment for fear of being stigmatization and those undergoing treatment are less likely to stay.

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Examples of Stigmatizing Behavior

In today’s world, it is a common phenomenon to witness stigmatizing behaviors about people with substance use disorders and other related issues such as mental disorders, homelessness, and disabilities among others. Growing up, I witnessed a common stereotype that people with substance use disorders are perpetrators of various antisocial behaviors such as theft, robbery, and other violent and aggressive act. This has made people with substance use disorders to be wrongly vindicated for crimes. Another example is that the general public perceives these people as less deserving thus they are alienated from many opportunities. As noted earlier, many people believe that people with substance use disorders have a personal responsibility thus exhibit little to no sympathy towards them. Similarly, homeless people are believed to be lazy due to the notion that they have failed to work to provide for their basic needs. In a broader view, these groups are deemed unfit to execute various opportunities thus are left out in employment opportunities. Even worse is that substance use and mental disorders are not prioritized in healthcare due to the negative attitude towards them (Janet Zwick, 2020).

Issues Related To Self-Identifying As Having Substance Use Disorders

Many researchers have proposed that self-identifying as having substance use and related disorders are the ultimate way of eradicating various forms of stigma (Restrepo, 2020). Due to this, many people are coming out about their struggles, an aspect that has its downside and upside. On the downside, self-disclosing or self-identifying will predispose one to stigma given the numerous negative stereotypes about people with substance use disorders. This can be heightened for some first responders such as police officers due to the higher expectations bestowed on them. Therefore, coming out can be a way of exposing themselves to stigmatization. On the upside, self-disclosing is a reliable way of educating society and changing their negative attitudes towards people with substance use disorders. This process is gradual since it involves people getting used to the fact that it is normal for someone to become a victim of substance use and related comorbidities. Moreover, self-disclosing can encourage other people in alienation to seek help and stay in the treatment by helping them to overcome stigma.


Borenstein, J. (2020). Stigma, Prejudice and Discrimination Against People with Mental Illness. American Psychiatric Association.

Janet Zwick, H. A. (2020). Stigma: how it affects the substance use disorder patient. Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy, 15(50). doi:

Resterepo, J. W. (2020). Human Rights, Stigma, and Substance Use. Health and Human Rights Journal, 22(1), 51-60.

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