Drink and Drugs News DDN July_August 2019 | Page 6

Stigma ANOTHER STORY Social media is full of stigmatising language about drug use. We should be using powerful first-person stories to create a more positive picture, says James Armstrong s a charity Phoenix has been actively using social media for around eight years. It offers us an opportunity to share knowledge and experience about drugs and alcohol away from the sometimes suspect agenda – or poorly informed opinions – found within more traditional forms of media. Over this time, we’ve developed a highly engaged group of followers and friends, and a compassionate community of support. However, none of us need spend long on social media before we encounter what inventor of the world wide web Tim Berners- Lee described on its 30th anniversary as the ‘unintended negative consequences of [the web’s] benevolent design, such as the outraged and polarised tone and quality of online discourse’. Often the online discourse on drugs and alcohol is prompted by news stories that set the tone for outrage and conflict. Just as angry and provocative headlines stir the emotions of A 6 | drinkanddrugsnews | July/August 2019 the public in order to sell papers, there can be a similarly attention-seeking approach online. It’s hard to shake the underlying feeling that this polarised online discourse of anger and outrage is driven by stigma. So in response to this, late last year we started to think about how we could shed light on the stigma that is at the root of how drugs and alcohol are presented in British social media, and how having a clearer idea of this could ultimately help the sector combat it effectively. There are various types of stigma, and all create barriers to treatment and support. We know that self-stigma breeds feelings of guilt and shame in people who need help and delays their accessing of treatment, so prolonging harm and suffering for them and their loved ones. Societal stigma, meanwhile, limits access to resources such as funding for treatment, access to jobs, homes and social engagement, and structural stigma influences the multiple social policies that discriminate against the people who use our services and their families. Stigma has the potential to invade all forms of social interaction because it exists, perhaps unconsciously, in the minds of so many people. However, people’s minds can be changed if we start to understand how the feelings and attitudes that lead to stigma are formed. Stigma can be seen as a mental short cut. It bypasses nuanced understanding of complex issues and, upon hearing the word ‘As people learn more they are less likely to blame... and more likely to seek an understanding of the complex social drivers of the harms of addiction...’ www.drinkanddrugsnews.com