Stigma and social support in substance abuse: Implications for mental health and well-being

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Birtel, Michèle ; Wood, Lisa ; Kempa, Nancy J. (2017)

Individuals with substance abuse may suffer from severe public and internalized stigma. Little is known about how social support can reduce stigma and improve mental health and well-being for them. This research examined how perceived stigma influences individuals in treatment for substance abuse, and whether internalized stigma and shame are mechanisms which link social support with better mental health and well-being. Sixty-four participants in treatment for substance abuse (alcohol, drugs), aged between 18 and 64, completed an online survey measuring perceived stigma, internalized stigma, shame, perceived social support, and mental health and well-being (self-esteem, depression and anxiety, sleep). We found that perceived stigma was associated with lower self-esteem, higher depression and anxiety, and poorer sleep. Furthermore, perceived social support followed the opposite pattern, and was associated with higher self-esteem, lower depression and anxiety, and better sleep. The effects of perceived stigma and of perceived social support on our outcome measures were mediated by internalized stigma and by internalized shame. Helping individuals with substance abuse to utilize their social support may be fruitful for combatting the negative impact of internalized stigma and shame on mental health and well-being.
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