Stigma, Discrimination, Treatment Effectiveness, and Policy: Public Views about Drug Addiction and Mental Illness



Colleen L. Barry, Ph.D., M.P.P.; Emma E. McGinty, Ph.D., M.S.; Bernice A. Pescosolido, Ph.D.; Howard H. Goldman, M.D., Ph.D.

Psychiatric Services

October 2014



Objective  Public attitudes about drug addiction and mental illness were compared.

Methods  A Web-based national survey (N=709) was conducted to compare attitudes about stigma, discrimination, treatment effectiveness, and policy support in regard to drug addiction and mental illness.

Results  Respondents held significantly more negative views toward persons with drug addiction. More respondents were unwilling to have a person with drug addiction marry into their family or work closely with them. Respondents were more willing to accept discriminatory practices against persons with drug addiction, more skeptical about the effectiveness of treatments, and more likely to oppose policies aimed at helping them.

Conclusions  Drug addiction is often treated as a subcategory of mental illness, and insurance plans group them together under the rubric of “behavioral health.” Given starkly different public views about drug addiction and mental illness, advocates may need to adopt differing approaches to reducing stigma and advancing public policy.









Human Services and Justice Coordinating Committee