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Overcoming Stigma: Community Roles in Recovery

Issue 33

Chances are pretty good that, in one way or another, we’ve all used stigmatizing language associated with addiction and, by extension, with recovery.

When we recognize the burden that social stigma imposes on people in active addiction and recovery, and when we change our words and actions to ease that social stigma, we start to be part of the solution.

In her book Recovery Allies, Alison Jones Webb asked people in recovery about the barriers they faced to recovery.

Andrew, one respondent, talked about barriers in his hometown in Massachusetts, and he answered, “Stigma, stigma, stigma.”

The external stigma associated with addiction can severely hinder individuals’ recovery efforts. This form of stigma comes from societal judgment that categorizes people with substance use disorders as different or less deserving of empathy and support.

It can create a divide in the community and impose significant challenges for those in recovery, affecting their self-esteem and reducing their chances of successful rehabilitation.

Here are effective strategies to combat external stigma and foster a supportive environment for recovery:

  • Examine your ideas and beliefs about people who use alcohol and other drugs. Think about how you see people who struggle with substance use. Sometimes, negative ideas come from our lives or what we see on TV. Talk with family and friends about these ideas, and try to use kind words.
  • Learn more by going to recovery events and talking to people who are in recovery. This helps us understand and support each other better.


  • Partner with the recovery community to organize public meetings. These events help educate people and reduce stigma. Letting people share their stories can help them feel included.
  • Review and update the language on your websites, social media, and printed materials to match current research.
  • Work with local media to encourage the use of respectful, person-first language, and avoid labels such as “alcoholic” and “addict” whenever possible.

For social workers, healthcare providers, and public health professionals

  • Ask your clients and patients what they need for a smooth recovery, and be prepared to help them reach it.
  • Frequently remind people that recovery is highly likely for those with substance-use issues.
  • Continue to learn about addiction. Host meetings or talks with individuals in recovery to educate your peers on effective support and treatment resources.

By using these strategies, we can significantly reduce the stigma surrounding addiction and create an environment where recovery is supported and encouraged. Educating ourselves, using kind words, and working together are all important.

Taking this action breaks down barriers and makes it easier for people to get better and feel supported.

To learn more ways to help, read Recovery Allies by Alison Jones Webb.

Find out more about Alison Jones Webb and her book Recovery Allies:


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