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Stigma, what do you mean?

Bianca, AQCID
6 April 2021


Charles is 26 years old and suffers from an opioid addiction. He was using the substance recreationally for a few months, but gradually noticed that an addiction was setting in. Until recently, Charles worked at a furniture manufacturing company. Unfortunately, the company did not have an addiction program in place, and Charles, after a few missed workdays because of his substance abuse, was fired. He wanted to know whether he had any means of returning to his job, but he did not know exactly who to contact. In addition, he is ashamed of his addiction problem and doesn’t want it to be brought to light in front of his employer. He feels that, even if he were to return to his job, his colleagues’ perspective would be different. Charles no longer has a fixed abode and is coping as best he can. Recently, he spent a few nights on the street. During the day, he is involved in local community organizations and volunteers his time. It was there that he learned about therapy centres to address his addiction problem. He tried, but opioid withdrawal is so painful and tedious that he can’t complete it. He’s not ready to quit completely, but he would like to control his use. That wasn’t an option at the centre he attended. Sobriety or expulsion.  

Consider the fact that Charles feels social pressure to comply with society’s expectations. When we refer to social pressure, we are talking about the fact that society sets dominant standards in terms of the attitudes and behaviours that individuals should adopt. We can recognize Charles’s social pressure through the shame he feels about his problem and his belief that people will look at him differently if he talks about his substance use to his family or his employer. The greatest social pressure Charles experiences is being forced to attend a facility that expects him to be sober otherwise they will discontinue his treatment. His situation shows that the society’s model generates exclusion as Charles’s needs are not considered. First, we notice that he didn’t have access to an addiction program in his workplace and was guided to a facility that wasn’t responding to his consumption concerns. As a result, Charles is marginalized for his differences, considered to conflict with societal norms, and therefore experiences stigmatization. Stigma is a process that labels an individual or group in a negative way. The term is intersectional, meaning that it refers to a situation where people are simultaneously subjected to several forms of discrimination and categorization in a society. Moreover, the stigma is said to be internalized since it affects the person’s identity and constitutes a major resistance to self-determination and recovery. Faced with the difficulties associated with stigmatization, Charles may feel unable to address his problem and give up along the way. The stigma experienced by Charles is profoundly degrading, turning him from a complete and normal person into a deteriorated and diminished one. Charles may be perceived as a “deteriorated” individual as stigma has negative impacts on his quality of life (loss of job, loss of housing, loss of confidence, etc.). Charles’s situation has several impacts on his health, access to care, social relationships, etc. The impact of stigma can take different forms and range in intensity. This phenomenon affects the individual, the stigmatized group, and their relatives.

What is your level of empathy towards Charles’s situation?  If you met him, what would you say to him?