Strategic Priority 4 Reduce stigma and discrimination

Many people who use drugs report experiencing stigma, a loss of dignity and a lack of respect for the inherent value of their lives.

Problematic alcohol and other drug use, particularly illicit drug dependence, is recognised as one of the most stigmatised health conditions in the world. There is no evidence that stigma and discrimination discourage illicit drug use, and significant evidence points to the harmful impacts of such stigma and discrimination.

Stigma and discrimination involve expressing strong and usually unfair disapproval. Stigma and discrimination often stem from stereotypes and assumptions that fail to acknowledge or understand the social determinants or other vulnerabilities contributing to people’s alcohol or other drug use.

Stigma can lead to isolation, shame, anger, rejection and feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness for people with a lived experience, and for their families and carers.

Stigma and discrimination cause harm because they limit people’s willingness to seek or accept support for fear of poor treatment and judgement. Experiences of stigma and discrimination in health and other settings, such as community services, police, law, housing or the workplace can contribute to poorer health, wellbeing, employment and social outcomes.

Research has found that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples experience multiple forms of stigma, discrimination and racism. Strong kinship support, stable housing and financial security contributes to individual resilience and alleviates the impact of racism and discrimination.

Increasing resilience and wellbeing

Social inclusion helps protect against problematic alcohol and other drug use, and changing attitudes can lead to significantly positive outcomes. Resilience, social connectedness and positive wellbeing are protective factors that reduce vulnerability and the risks of problematic alcohol and other drug use and harm. 

Collective and individual strengths, resilience and wellbeing can be improved by supporting communities to develop the capacity to recover from challenges. Communities that are socially-connected and have accessible social services, including alcohol and other drugs services and information, are more resilient.

Priority actions

Reduce stigma and discrimination to minimise harm.



Build capacity of health services, law enforcement and other systems to provide strengths-based, culturally-safe, and person-centred responses to people with problematic alcohol and drug use and encourage help-seeking and acceptance of support.



Implement lived-experience-led training initiatives to improve workforce understanding of the effects of stigma, such as Putting Together the Puzzle training.



Establish pathways into the specialist alcohol and other drug workforce through identified peer roles.



Promote language guidelines to encourage objective and non-judgmental conversations about substance use and people who use drugs.



Improve the cultural-capability of the alcohol and other drug and supporting workforces to strengthen understanding of healing and how experiences of stigma, discrimination and racism can affect recovery.