Objectives: Problematic substance use is one of the most stigmatized health conditions leading research to examine how the labels and models used to describe it influence public stigma. Two recent studies examine whether beliefs in a disease model of addiction influence public stigma but result in equivocal findings — in line with the mixed-blessings model, Kelly et al. (2021) found that while the label “chronically relapsing brain disease” reduced blame attribution, it decreased prognostic optimism and increased perceived danger and need for continued care; however,Rundle et al. (2021) conclude absence of evidence. This study isolates the different factors used in these two studies to assess whether health condition (drug use vs. health concern), etiological label (brain disease vs. problem), and attributional judgment (low vs. high treatment stability) influence public stigma toward problematic substance use. Method: Overall, 1,613 participants were assigned randomly to one of the eight vignette conditions that manipulated these factors. They completed self-report measures of discrete and general public stigma and an indirect measure of discrimination. Results: Greater social distance, danger, and public stigma but lower blame were ascribed to drug use relative to a health concern. Greater (genetic) blame was reported when drug use was labeled as a“chronically relapsing brain disease” relative to a “problem”. Findings for attributional judgment were either inconclusive or statistically equivalent. Discussion: The labels used to describe problematic substance use appear to impact discrete elements of stigma. We suggest that addiction is a functional attribution, which may explain the mixed literature on the impact of etiological labels on stigma to date.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0; https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0). This license permits copying and redistributing the work in any medium or format, as well as adapting the material for any purpose, even commercially.
- problematic substance use
- models of addiction