Is Drug Addiction More Stigmatized Than Mental Health? 

Is Drug Addiction More Stigmatized Than Mental Health? 

Is Drug Addiction More Stigmatized Than Mental Health? 

According to substance abuse research, negative attitudes towards people with mental illness prevail among Americans. While negative public attitudes toward people with mental illness are well-documented and ubiquitous, less is known regarding negative public attitudes toward those with drug use disorders (SUD).  

According to data, the public has a more negative perception of those with substance use disorders than they do of people with mental illness. 

Between October and December 2013, Barry and colleaguescreated and conducted a quick web-based nationwide public opinion survey (n=709). The participants were questioned about their opinions regarding substance abuse or mental illness. Half of the sample (n=362) was asked questions concerning mental illness, while the other half (n=347) was asked the same questions about substance abuse. 

The authors employed a previously recruited probability-based online panel of adults in cell phone-only houses (n=50,000) using an equal probability sampling frame of resident addresses encompassing 97 percent of all households in the United States. 

The following outcomes were investigated: 

  • Stigmatization 
  • Acceptability of discrimination against those suffering from mental illness or drug abuse addiction  
  • Support for policy initiatives such as insurance parity and government funding for treatment, housing, and job opportunities 

The authors discovered that Americans have far higher negative sentiments toward people who struggle with drug abuse addiction than they do toward people who struggle with mental illness. 


  • When compared to a person with mental illness, more people were unwilling to have a person with drug addiction marry into their family (90 percent versus 59 percent) or work closely with them on the job (78 percent against 38 percent). 
  • Additionally, respondents were more inclined to regard discrimination against people with drug abuse addiction as a “not a severe crime” than they were to consider discrimination against people with mental illness as a “serious crime” (63 percent versus 38 percent ). 
  • Employers should be free to refuse work to people with drug addiction, according to 64% of respondents, compared to 25% who felt the same way about people with mental illness. When asked whether landlords should be entitled to refuse accommodation to someone with a drug addiction or mental illness, the answers were similar (54 percent versus 15 percent ). 
  • 59 percent of respondents stated that treatment choices for drug addiction were inadequate at controlling symptoms, compared to 41% who believed the same regarding mental illness therapy. 

Generally speaking, participants observed increased opposition to policies addressing drug addiction than policies addressing mental illness.  


  • Comparable insurance coverage for people with drug addiction was opposed by 43% of respondents, compared to 21% for people with mental illness. 
  • 49% expressed opposition to greater government spending on drug addiction treatment, compared to 33% who supported higher government spending on mental illness treatment. 
  • When it came to increased government spending on housing for people with drug addiction, 76 percent said they were against, compared to 45 percent who said they were opposed to increased spending on housing for people with mental illness. 
  • Increasing government expenditure on job help for those with drug addiction is opposed by 46 percent of respondents, while increased spending on job support for people with mental illness is opposed by only 32 percent. 


Public Attitudes About people with Drug Addiction and Mental Illness
Source: (Barry et al., 2014) 


According to this study, Americans have substantially more negative sentiments toward people who struggle with drug abuse addiction than they do toward people who struggle with mental illness. 

These sentiments translate into a lack of support for initiatives that would provide housing and job assistance to people who are addicted to drugs. Negative attitudes toward those who are addicted to drugs also indicate a lack of sympathy for addiction as a chronic disease. 

The authors also believe that, through decreasing stigma and portraying addiction and mental illness as manageable, the public’s image of substance use and mental illness can be changed. Because mental illness and substance abuse are often co-morbid, it is becoming increasingly necessary to try to reduce the stigma associated with both. 


Barry, C. L., McGinty, E. E., Pescosolido, B. A., & Goldman, H. H. (2014). Stigma, discrimination, treatment effectiveness, and policy: public views about drug addiction and mental illness. Psychiatric Services, 65 (10), 1269-1272. 

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