Stigma experience of families supporting an adult member with substance misuse

Terence V McCann, Dan I. Lubman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Stigmatization of families supporting an adult member with substance misuse is common and undermines their capacity to support the person and maintain their own well-being. The aims of the present study were to understand affected family members (AFMs)' experience of stigma within the context of substance misuse, and to explicate what steps, if any, they took to try to counteract stigma and social isolation. Semistructured, audio-recorded qualitative interviews were conducted with 31 AFMs from Victoria in Australia. Interpretative phenomenological analysis was used to guide data collection and analysis. Two main themes and related subthemes abstracted from the data illustrated how participants perceived and responded to stigma associated with a family member's substance misuse: 'engaging in secrecy, and minimizing contact with others' and 'lack of knowledge and empathy, and judgmental attitudes reinforcing isolation'. A third theme, 'adopting measures to moderate the effect of stigma', highlights how some attempted to respond to stigma by challenging informal supports' misconceptions about substance misuse, and being open selectively with others about their situation. Stigma against AFMs should be identified and challenged. Mental health nurses and other clinicians in the alcohol and other drugs field are in a strong position to support AFMs, with a particular focus on reducing courtesy stigma, challenging some clinicians' judgmental attitudes, and improving ways of communicating with families.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)693-701
Number of pages9
JournalInternational Journal of Mental Health Nursing
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2018


  • Affected family member
  • Coping
  • Qualitative research
  • Stigma
  • Substance misuse

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