Stigma and Social Support Matter in Substance Abuse

When people are in treatment for substance abuse, the stigma they encounter and the social support they receive may have wide-ranging effects on their mental health. According to a new study published in Psychiatry Research, stigma and social support during substance abuse treatment are associated with several different aspects of psychological wellbeing.

In the study, researchers from the United Kingdom surveyed 64 people between the ages of 18 and 64, all of whom were currently undergoing treatment for alcohol or drug abuse. Participants answered questions about their perceptions of experiencing stigma and receiving social support, as well as about their overall psychological wellbeing.

It turned out that perceived stigma had a negative impact on multiple different aspects of people’s wellbeing. In particular, people who perceived that they had experienced more stigma tended to have lower self-esteem, poorer sleep, higher depression and higher anxiety.

On the other hand, perceived social support had the opposite effect. People who perceived that they had received more social support tended to have higher self-esteem, better sleep, lower depression and lower anxiety.

The study also found that the link between perceived stigma, perceived social support and psychological wellbeing seemed to come down to the internalized stigma and internalized shame people felt. In other words, perceived stigma was associated with internalized stigma and shame, which were in turn linked to self-esteem, sleep, and so on. Meanwhile, perceived social support tended to decrease internalized stigma and shame.

The research didn’t go into the cause-and-effect between perceived social support, perceived stigma and psychological wellbeing. Nevertheless, it did find that the three seem to be linked, with stigma correlating with lower psychological wellbeing and social support higher wellbeing. The practical takeaway is that social support could have a wide-ranging positive impact on the mental health of people in treatment for substance abuse, while stigma seems to have a detrimental effect.

Image: Flickr/Sagar