Robert Stebbings, Adfam | July 2018 | 7 minutes

It could be the parent who's lost a child through alcohol or drugs who is too scared to go to a local bereavement support group for fear of judgement, or the child struggling at school due to their caring responsibilities but feeling unable to tell a peer or teacher. It could be the worker who's never had the confidence to disclose their personal experiences, or the person worried by their partner's escalating recreational drug use.

What links these people is stigma - literally a mark made on the skin and more usually translated as a mark of shame or disgrace. Stigma has been a prominent theme for us at Adfam and something that we frequently encounter in our varied work supporting families affected by alcohol or drug use.

In 2012 Adfam published a report, “Challenging Stigma”, following detailed consultation with family members across the country. We heard first-hand the ways stigma impacted on the lives of family members. These included feelings of:

  • Isolation – “I’ve stopped going out and communicating with anyone, and I can’t mention his name to my family as it’s like mud.”
  • Permanence – “Once it’s there you can’t get rid of it; in all areas of my life I’ve experienced it.
  • Concealment – “I didn’t want anyone else to know; I kept it hidden from everybody as I wanted them to be proud of my daughter and think she was doing good things in her life.

One family member spoke about how stigma is “like being labelled with a big invisible sign that I can’t see but others can”.

This isn't good enough. Families should feel able to talk about their experiences openly and live their lives without fear of judgement from others. Often stigma isn’t malicious, or deliberate, it’s due to people misunderstanding the issue and what families are going through. That's why we are launching #StigmaMakesMeFeel - an online campaign which will see 1000 people explaining how stigma has made them feel, and how it's impacted on their lives.

To achieve this we have produced stigma campaign boards, so people can write their own personal message about how stigma feels to them. We’d like to hear from family members themselves, professionals and volunteers in the sector but also people that haven’t experienced this directly, so they can acknowledge and express what stigma means to them.


By talking about this issue openly and honestly, we believe we can make a huge impact and change the way people think about substance use and families.

We’ll also be using the campaign to launch our new Instagram channel where we will be displaying the photos of people with their own personal message of stigma.

In Westminster on Wednesday 11 July (5-6pm) our Chief Executive Vivienne Evans, Jonathan Ashworth MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and Katie one of our family ambassadors will formally launch the campaign. This will be a positive, feel-good event with people talking about stigma openly and honestly. On the night we’ll also be showcasing some of our recent stigma-busting partnership projects and taking lots of photos with our campaign boards! There are still spaces available so please join us if you can!