Reducing stigma and discrimination for people who use alcohol and other drugs

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Date Commenced:
Expected Date of Completion:
Project Supporters:

Queensland Mental Health Commission

Project Members: 
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Dr Kari Lancaster
Senior Research Fellow
Project Main Description: 

This project, commissioned by the Queensland Mental Health Commission, aims to identify effective ways of reducing stigma and discrimination which has a negative impact on the mental health and wellbeing of Queenslanders experiencing problematic alcohol and other drug use. Specifically the research will examine:

• How stigma and discrimination presents and manifests, including where it is not experienced;

• The settings and sectors in which stigma and discrimination occurs;

• The impacts of stigma and discrimination on mental health and wellbeing and in particular on recovery and the ability to reconnect with the community;

• The commonalities and differences across varying types of drug use (for example alcohol vs illicit drug use);

• The commonalities and differences experienced by different groups who experience problematic alcohol and other drug use; and

• The evidence of what works to address stigma and discrimination.

Project Collaborators: External: 

Dr Kate Seear
Monash University


This research directly articulates with the Queensland Alcohol and Other Drugs Action Plan 2015-17 which includes an action relating to stigma and discrimination for people experiencing problematic substance use.

Research internationally has shown that stigma can create barriers to people seeking and receiving help to address problematic alcohol and other drug use, and can also hinder their ability to reconnect with the community and access opportunities such as employment. For example, a recent study by the Australian Injecting and Illicit Drug Users League (2015) found that:

  • Stigma and discrimination was experienced by people in a wide range of settings including hospitals, prisons, police interactions, needle and syringe programs, government agencies, drug and alcohol services, workplaces, employment agencies, child protection agencies, schools and day-care facilities;
  • The healthcare sector was identified as the primary area in which respondents reported cases of discrimination;
  • People seen as current or former drug users, or having a blood borne virus are more likely to be treated poorly, sometimes denied treatment altogether or provided a level of treatment far below the quality that other members of society would consider appropriate within the healthcare system.

Stigma and discrimination related to problematic alcohol and other drug use can also compound social disadvantage.

This research will provide context-specific knowledge on the specific barriers and enablers to seeking and receiving help in Queensland, and will identify structural elements in policy and law that negatively impact on people experiencing problematic alcohol and other drug use. This will inform the work of the Queensland government as well as the broader literature on the relationship between stigma, discrimination, and alcohol and other drugs.


This research will specifically support implementation actions by the Queensland government, and inform the development of a position paper and an action plan. The work undertaken will deliver the following outcomes:

  • Identify ‘what works’:

Drawing on both the evidence base and the lived experience of participants we will identify effective approaches to reduce the stigma and discrimination experienced by people with problematic alcohol and/or other drug use.

  • Identify problematic policy and law:

We will identify key structural elements in policy and law that negatively impact on people experiencing problematic alcohol and other drug use.

  • Identify priority settings:

We will identify systemic issues in particular settings and sectors which contribute to stigma and discrimination.

  • Make recommendations for change:

Across the policy and law, priority settings and priority groups identified, we will make recommendations for change by identifying options for reform and effective actions that may be taken to address stigma and discrimination.

Design and Method: 

The research design involves three interrelated components:

1) Literature review

2) Policy and legislative review

3) Analytical case studies based on qualitative semi-structured in-depth interviews.


The project is underway with a final report due to the Queensland Mental Health Commission in early 2017.

Project Research Area: 
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