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While both are treatable health conditions, stigma of addiction much more pronounced, seen as ‘moral failing,’ researchers say

Stephanie Desmon and Susan Morrow / October 1, 2014

Posted in HealthPolitics+Society

People are significantly more likely to have negative attitudes toward those dealing with drug addiction than those with mental illness, a new Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health research suggests, and generally don’t support insurance, housing, and employment policies that benefit those dependent on drugs.

A report on the findings, which appears in the October issue of the journal Psychiatric Services, suggests that society seems not to know whether to regard substance abuse as a treatable medical condition akin to diabetes or heart disease, or as a personal failing to be overcome.

“While drug addiction and mental illness are both chronic, treatable health conditions, the American public is more likely to think of addiction as a moral failing than a medical condition,” says study leader Colleen L. Barry, an associate professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the School of Public Health. “In recent years, it has become more socially acceptable to talk publicly about one’s struggles with mental illness. But with addiction, the feeling is that the addict is a bad or weak person, especially because much drug use is illegal.”

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