This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Are All Substance Users Created Equal? Factors that Influence Stigma toward Individuals with Substance Use Disorders




Raley, Kristin

Type of Degree





Social stigma has been defined as a collection of negative attitudes, beliefs, thoughts or behaviors that influence an individual or group to fear, avoid, or discriminate against people with particular characteristics. Stigma can lead to a number of barriers to entering mental health treatment, and individuals who have multiple stigmatized characteristics are believed to be more at risk for experiencing myriad negative effects, including greater degrees of internalized stigmatization as well as sociopolitical consequences. The present study examined how race and drug of choice impact perceptions of individuals with substance use disorders. It was hypothesized that individuals would endorse more prejudicial and stigmatizing attitudes toward members of minority ethnic groups than toward Caucasian substance users. Furthermore, it was anticipated that individuals described as having an alcohol use disorder would be rated less negatively than individuals described as having cocaine or marijuana use disorders. Four hundred seventy seven undergraduate students participated in this study and 359 were included in analyses. Participants were presented with one of nine vignettes depicting an individual from one of three different ethnic groups, White, African American, or Latino, described as having problematic use of one of three substances, alcohol, marijuana, or cocaine. Participants were then asked to complete measures of social distancing, attribution, and beliefs regarding the cause of the disorder. Results showed main effects of drug of choice, with cocaine use being rated more negatively than either marijuana or alcohol use. In addition, alcohol use and cocaine use were rated as more likely to have a biological basis (i.e., less controllable) than marijuana use.