Substance Use and Stigma

I Heart someone Who Uses Drugs
Right click on the graphic above to save to your desktop and consider using it in your email signature throughout the month of May.

As a community we want to challenge the stigma associated with substance use and encourage more open and honest conversations about alcohol and other drugs.


What is stigma?

Stigma is a negative, judgemental attitude toward people who use drugs (PWUD), particularly those whose drug use is considered excessive or problematic.

Stigma is everywhere. PWUD experience stigma and discrimination trying to access health care, education, housing and employment. The structures in our society that determine who receives what services or social rewards often exclude PWUD. Professionals and the public have ingrained attitudes about drug use that often reinforce the discrimination, blaming and poor treatment that PWUD experience. In turn, PWUD may adopt these attitudes themselves, and this holds them back from seeking support or believing that recovery is possible.

Stigma is a significant barrier to people living healthier, connected lives.


What is harm reduction?

Harm reduction is part of everyday life. Every time we take extra steps to stay safe when engaging in an activity that has some risk – such as wearing a seat belt while driving – we are using harm reduction tools and strategies. But harm reduction is about more than just safety.

Harm reduction is an approach that puts people first in a respectful, non-judgemental way.  It recognizes that drug use is a complex health issue that can’t be disentangled from social inequities. Harm reduction services for PWUD has the aim of reducing harm or risk from substance use  by providing essential supplies and information, and increasing connection by listening, understanding and referring to health or other supports that are available in the community.


What can you do?

  1. Pay attention to how you talk about substance use.

Stigmatizing language hurts people and gets in the way of solutions. Shifting the language we use around drug use is an important step to changing our perceptions. Eliminating negative and judgemental language and replacing with neutral, compassionate, “people-first” language will have a positive impact on PWUD.

  1. Learn more about the topic

Learn more about substance use, stigma and harm reduction. The following are links to some web sites and resources to explore.

Issues and Ideas

Online Learning

Programs and Services


  1. Speak out and support people who use drugs.

I heart someone who uses drugs

May 7 is International Harm Reduction Awareness Day. Feel free to save this image and use it in your email signature to help draw attention to this important cause.


Last Updated: 03/11/2022