Towards Greater Understanding of Addiction Stigma

Intersectionality with Race/Ethnicity and Gender

Published in: Drug and Alcohol Dependence, v. 169, Dec. 2016, p. 85-91

Posted on on December 12, 2016

by Magdalena Kulesza, Mauri Matsuda, Jason J. Ramirez, Alexandra J. Werntz, Bethany A. Teachman, Kristen P. Lindgren

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In spite of the significant burden associated with substance use disorders, especially among persons who inject drugs (PWIDs), most affected individuals do not engage with any type of formal or informal treatment. Addiction stigma, which is represented by negative social attitudes toward individuals who use alcohol and/or other drugs, is one of the barriers to care that is poorly understood. The current study: a) assessed implicit (indirect and difficult to consciously control) and explicit (consciously controlled) beliefs about PWIDs among visitors to a public web site; and b) experimentally investigated the effects of ethnicity/race and gender on those implicit and explicit beliefs.


N = 899 predominantly White (70%) and women (62%) were randomly assigned to one of six target PWIDs conditions: gender (man/woman) x race/ethnicity (White, Black, Latino/a). Participants completed an Implicit Association Test and explicit assessment of addiction stigma.


Participants implicitly associated PWIDs (especially Latino/a vs. White PWIDs) with deserving punishment as opposed to help (p = 0.003, d = 0.31), indicating presence of addiction stigma-related implicit beliefs. However, this bias was not evident on the explicit measure (p = 0.89). Gender did not predict differential implicit or explicit addiction stigma (p = 0.18).


Contrary to explicit egalitarian views towards PWIDs, participants' implicit beliefs were more in line with addiction stigma. If replicated and clearer ties to behavior are established, results suggest the potential importance of identifying conditions under which implicit bias might influence behavior (even despite explicit egalitarian views) and increase the likelihood of discrimination towards PWIDs.

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