College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences Theses and Dissertations

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stigma, addiction, dependence


Growing evidence documents pervasive and powerful stigmatization, discrimination, and prejudice directed towards individuals with mental illness. However, little is known about stigma towards individuals with substance disorders. This study examined the relationship between familiarity, perceived dangerousness, fear, and desired social distance towards individuals with substance dependence to alcohol, marijuana, and heroin. This study found that for marijuana and heroin, familiarity had an indirect effect, through perceived dangerousness and fear, on desired social distance. Furthermore, perceived dangerousness had a direct and indirect effect, through fear, on desired social distance. Finally fear had a direct effect on desired social distance. Greater familiarity predicted lower levels of perceived dangerousness, fear, and desired social distance for these two drugs. Similar results were found for alcohol; however, familiarity had an indirect effect on desired social distance only through fear. Furthermore, familiarity did not predict fear or perceived dangerousness. Future empirical work should examine the nature of this unique relationship between familiarity with alcohol addiction, perceived dangerousness, and fear. Overall, this study showed that mental health stigma models could be adapted to understand substance dependence stigma. However, the precise nature of the model varied among substances. This suggests that addiction to each substance is stigmatized in differing ways. Still, this study showed that familiarity tended to negatively predict desired social distance toward addicted individuals. Future research should explore this relationship and examine the effect of increasing familiarity on addiction stigma.