Asociación Dianova España

Stigma: “We are people, period”

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Dianova aims to end the rejection suffered by people with substance use disorders

Centres Dianova Spain

In Dianova Spain’s centers residents learn to live drug free without the burden of stigma – photo: Dianova CC

By Alejandro Bassos Reina – The sociologist Erving Goffman has defined stigma as a negative label that is assigned to a person in order to judge them and discriminate against them. In the case of people with problems of substance addiction, this stigma is part of their daily lives. They stop being people, and become simply “junkies”, “drug addicts” or “addicts”, and they feel the insults and contempt of those around them.

Some of the people that use the Dianova Spain centres experience this situation as something normal in their day-to-day lives. On the occasion of the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, they have spoken and have launched a message: “Stigma causes harm and it sinks you deeper. We are people, period.”

Alberto is 44 years old and says that “Everyone labels everything. If you consume drugs, the label is bad, and you notice that those closest to you distance themselves from you.” If an addiction problem already exists, “This makes it worse because if you, like me, are someone that needs the approval of those around you, that feeling of rejection destroys you. Socially, your life is finished.”


Luisa, 51 years old, felt that stigma when she lost her job and she saw how members of her family avoided her. “I have been lucky enough in that my three kids have supported me in my fight against addiction, but not everyone has the same luck. And the fact that the people you love the most turn their back on you hurts a lot,” she explains.

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And the stigma is especially damaging if it comes from those closest to you, and almost everyone we interviewed has experienced this: If, on top of everything, you are HIV positive, the stigma is even worse. And in my house, I had to listen to everything they said against me, even from my own father,” explains Francisco, who at the age of 46 has suffered rejection after rejection in job interviews for being HIV-positive.

“You reach a point where you believe that the stigma is written on your face,” Alberto continues. “You are scared everywhere you go, you distrust everyone because you think that, even if they say that they support you, eventually they’ll turn their back on you.” It is a feeling that Jean, 53, has also felt, and he asks for understanding: “A substance abuser is someone who is sick and they need all the help possible.” And what would Jean say to the society that rejects and stigmatizes him? To him, it is very clear: “People should look and think before they reject someone, they should analyses the reasons why we have this addiction problem, and, above all, they should listen and talk to that person.”