December/January 2023Vol. 23, No. 10Disrupting Stigma Can Improve Outcomes for Families Affected by Substance Use and Mental Disorders
The stigma surrounding child abuse and neglect and parental substance use and mental health disorders can affect the attitudes of health-care, treatment, child welfare, court, and other professionals; family and friends; and the person with the substance use or mental health disorder. Negative attitudes toward parents with substance use and/or mental health disorders can impede their access to services and supports as well as exacerbate disparities in access to services and outcomes for traditionally underserved communities, including Black, Indigenous, and other people of color; individuals who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, and other identities; and those living in poverty.
A brief from the National Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare, Disrupting Stigma: How Understanding, Empathy, and Connection Can Improve Outcomes for Families Affected by Substance Use and Mental Disorders, provides strategies to reduce stigma in interactions, expectations, and policies affecting families that are based on data gleaned from best practices in the field and a thorough review of the literature.
It proposes the following strategies for overcoming stigma among professionals working with parents with substance use disorders and their families:
- Recognize substance use disorders as a chronic disease and brain disorder and reflect this understanding in language, responses, and policies.
- Debunk common myths and misconceptions.
- Understand and value data about access, treatment, and recovery.
- Integrate peers and recovery specialists into service delivery and work with families.
- Provide training, education, and ongoing support to staff and collaborative partners.
- Identify stigma in interactions, expectations, language, and policies.
- Use a strengths-based perspective and focus on what is going well.
- Listen to clients and remain patient during the recovery process.
- Understand there are different responses to self-stigma or shame.
- Honor the individual’s role as a parent and the child’s attachment to the parent.
- Make mindful language choices and recognize that words have power.
To learn more, including the definitions of the the different types of stigma, information about the history of substance use stigma in U.S. drug policies, and additional resources, read Disrupting Stigma: How Understanding, Empathy, and Connection Can Improve Outcomes for Families Affected by Substance Use and Mental Disorders.