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Addiction is a complex condition with many underlying factors.

Assumptions and conscious or unconscious biases we make about people who experience addiction mean that those affected do not receive the help and support they need. It stops people from accessing medical assistance early, often meaning that by the time they access support, the issues are more difficult to treat and can have serious consequences.

In a report commissioned by the NHS APA and conducted by Working With Everyone, it was found that a single negative experience would make an individual less likely to return to treatment.

mental health

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He is a British Pakistani man in his late thirties who has a long-term mental health condition and has served at least one prison sentence:

When talking about his experiences of stigma, he highlighted the fact that he has experienced multiple stigmas and that he was unable to break it down:

“It was about it all. If my criminal record wasn’t going to be a barrier then certainly my race and culture would have been, or if my race and culture wouldn’t have been then it would have been my criminal behaviour, criminal past. So, on all fronts.”


She is a woman in her late thirties, from a rural town, she is a survivor of domestic abuse who has been a sex worker.

She described more than one incident of domestic violence; this was the first:

“My partner head-butted me when I was seven months pregnant and he sent me to my antenatal appointment by myself, I kept on saying that we were messing about and we clashed heads.

Obviously [the midwife] didn’t believe it, she rang social services and my social worker actually turned round to me and said, because she found out about my drug use, "I’m gonna do everything in my power to make sure [your child’s] not placed with you or your family ...”


other conditions


He is an autistic man in his fifties who very articulately explained the confusion he felt when trying to deal with drug treatment services and other people he met in drug treatment and peer support services.
He attempted to access drug treatment a number of times, but unsuccessfully.

He described himself as not understanding the rules and finding them inconsistently applied. He felt that he was unable to read subtext and had not received appropriate care and support from drug treatment, at least in part, because his autism was poorly understood and when he didn’t present or respond in the same way as other people, he was stigmatised.

learnt behaviour

She is a woman in her mid-forties, who had a difficult childhood and used lots of different drugs to help her cope. She is a survivor of domestic abuse and has a long-term mental health condition. She considers herself to be in long-term abstinence-based recovery and is now volunteering in a treatment service. Her mother had a long-term mental health condition whilst she was growing up.

This has left her with low self-esteem:

“[as a child] you 100% internalise it and you just grow up with low self-esteem and believing that you are, not just, not loveable, but that you are hateable, nobody will ever care about you and you will not.... you’re not worthy of anything, don’t even try, just keep out of everyone’s way because people hate you and want to punch you."



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