Greater Stigma Toward Addiction Than Mental Illness?


-By A. Scott Roberts
M.S. Rehabilitation Counseling

According to researchers from John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the majority of people surveyed showed that they didn't know addiction had biochemical roots and believed addiction only affected those that are undetermined, weak-willed or "bad" people.1

In fact, the people surveyed viewed addiction much worse than those who had a mental illness. The reason, researchers believe, is because the public is not educated enough about addiction.

"While drug addiction and mental illness are both chronic, treatable health conditions, the American public is more likely to think of addiction as a moral failing than a medical condition... In recent years, it has become more socially acceptable to talk publicly about one's struggles with mental illness. But with addiction, the feeling is that the addict is a bad or weak person."(Source: Colleen L. Barry, PhD)

According to this research, 22 percent of participants said they would work with someone that had a drug addiction, compared to 62 percent saying they were willing to work with someone with a mental illness.2

No doubt that both drug addiction and mental illness has attached stigma. However, addicted individuals usually get the brunt of it, even though it can be managed and treated.

Addiction has shown to produce changes in the brain that contribute to further addiction problems and compulsivity. But these outward behaviors are really a manifestation of an underlying biochemical issue.3

"Many behaviors driven by addiction are real problems and sometimes criminal acts. But the disease is about brains, not drugs. It's about underlying neurology, not outward actions." (Source: Dr. Michael Miller President of American Society of Addiction Medicine)

Addiction is something that affects people from all walks of life. Family members, celebrities and public figures struggle with addiction. It does not only affect those with poor moral standards or people that are unmotivated.

-A. Scott Roberts
M.S. Rehabilitation Counseling


1-2. Colleen L. Barry, Emma E. McGinty, Bernice A. Pescosolido, Howard H. Goldman. (2014) Stigma, Discrimination, Treatment Effectiveness, and Policy: Public Views About Drug Addiction and Mental Illness. Psychiatric Services; 65 (10)
2. Miller, M. (2011). ASAM releases new definition of addiction Addiction is a chronic brain disease, not just bad behavior or bad choices. American Society of Addiction Medicine.