Sign, mark, brand, blemish, blame, stain, scar, shame, affront or disgrace are some of the synonyms used in English to approach the understanding of the word 'stigma', a word which is further defined by the Oxford English Dictionary "as a mark of disgrace or infamy; a sign of severe censure or condemnation, regarded as impressed on a person or thing; a 'brand'".
Throughout history there have been many diseases, health problems or disorders that have been typecast in this way. The only thing this has achieved has been to remove the person from their social environment and to prevent them from receiving the necessary support and enjoying their human rights. Such people have ended up being despised, marginalised, someone to be avoided. In short, we are dealing with a deeply discrediting label.
We have seen it applied to diseases such as leprosy, plague, schizophrenia and even epilepsy. What's going on here? Aren't these individuals people who deserve to be treated the same as others?
Erving Goffman defined "stigma" as the expectation of a stereotypical and discrediting judgment of oneself by others in a particular context (Goffman, 1968).
In recent decades, in addition to the stigmatization of the mentally ill, we have seen how the same phenomenon has occurred in HIV/AIDS, both in relation to the syndrome itself, and even the personal characteristics of the sufferer. And although not a new phenomenon, people who have a substance use disorder, with all that this entails, are also victims of the same disregard, and this reflects badly on our society.
There was also a time when substance abuse was strongly linked to HIV, which made this prejudice even worse. Society tends to pigeonhole certain people and the media facilitates such representations and beliefs (Rengel, 2005). There is also a tendency to label those who have an addictive disorder negatively, highlighting the negative aspects and identifying their condition as an important part of the story, even when this is not the case.
According to sociologist Javier Rubio, the process of constructing this stigma is always arbitrary and cultural, and arises from the need to censor people who deviate from what is or is not recognised as socially and culturally acceptable. It operates as an all-encompassing definition with the capacity to discredit the individual/consumer of toxic substances in social exchanges. The stigmatization process turns the drug addict into a dispossessed person, with his/her social identity being established by comparison with non-consumers, and this comparison serves to fix his/her social position as someone who is different and inferior. What is more, the drug use/addiction itself generates a deterioration in the social environment (with relatives, peers, neighbours, etc.) and in the workplace; by living his/her life through the substance, a psychosocial lifestyle is created in accordance with the new situation and the new role, that of a substance-dependent individual (Rubio, 2001).
The consumption of alcohol and other drugs triggers behaviours that are inappropriate to the social construct; addicts may suffer physical and/or psychological disease that distances them...