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Stigma Research Uncovers Need for Education

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

People who work in the alcohol and other drug sector say its time to make alcohol and other drug treatment more visible to the wider community, according to research commissioned by the WA Network of Alcohol and other Drug Agencies (WANADA).

Funded by the Drug and Alcohol Office and managed by Marketing for Change, the project will inform evidence based approaches to reducing stigma associated with alcohol and other drug-related problems.

"Alcohol and other drug problems are a serious health concern," says WANADA CEO Jill Rundle. "People need to be able to access health services and support without fear of stigma or discrmination."

WANADA commissioned Colmar Brunton Social Research to identify the types of stigma experienced by AOD users in the WA community. As part of the research, Colmar Brunton surveyed 427 community members about attitudes towards people who experience alcohol and other drug problems.

Alcohol and other Drug-Related Problems in the WA Community

The survey found that many Western Australians know someone with personal experience of problems related to alcohol and other drugs (AOD). 

"Of the community members surveyed, 10% knew somebody who was currently experiencing problems with alcohol," reports WA Network of Alcohol and other Drug Agencies (WANADA) Organisation Development Manager Jane Harwood.

"Six percent of respondents knew somebody who was currently experiencing problems with drugs," says Jane.

"While many people know someone who is currently experiencing alcohol or other drug related problems, there are still many others who have little experience of this health condition," says Jill Rundle. "Their ideas are more likely to be based on what they've learnt from popular culture than on the facts."

What Are The Myths?

Alcohol and other drug service workers and consumers participated in focus groups as part of the research and believe that change is needed.

When asked to identify the issues, alcohol and other drug workers reported a need to debunk stereotypes. The research found that,

"Sector workers feel that they see a wide range of people, and there is no specific type of person who may have problems related to alcohol or other drug use."

Workers reported that greater visibility of the different types of people would undermine assumptions.

Education Needed

All focus group participants felt that the stigma surrounding problems associated with alcohol and other drug use is based on ignorance.

"Both workers and consumers felt that to reduce stigma, education is needed at all levels," says Luke van der Beeke, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Marketing for Change. "Consumers felt that efforts to address negative stigma should be informed by people who have direct experience."

Future Work

While the research shows that stigma associated with alcohol and other drug problems is high, it has also provided direction on what to do next. WANADA will continue to keep the sector and the community informed of its progress and welcomes your comments.


  1. Having former users stand up as visible Icons of recovery will go a long way to reducing stigma. Whilst there are many people who have recovered from problematic substance use, and I mean recovery on that persons terms, there is very little acceptance of those who stand up to tell their story. These people also are open to pejorative judgements and often find it difficult to enter the workforce. So what does this say to the people who are entering recovery? Ther is noone visible in the community who has recovered therefore recovery is not possible.

    1. Thanks very much for your comment. We appreciate your considered perspective and we hope that, in the future, people will be able to talk about alcohol and other drug related problems without judgement.




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