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Alcohol & other drugs stigma

Experiences of stigma and discrimination are a common occurrence in the everyday lives of people living with problematic alcohol and other drug use, causing significant harm and creating major barriers to seeking help and support.

This can lead to, and compound, social and economic disadvantage, often long after substance use has stopped. Our final progress report can be found at the end of this page.

Options for reform

Our report, Changing attitudes, changing lives: Options to reduce stigma and discrimination for people experiencing problematic alcohol and other drug use outlines 18 options for systemic reform.

The report found stigma and discrimination is commonly encountered in the attitudes and behaviours of individuals, as well as structurally through policies, laws and practices. Stigma and discrimination have been found to be most pervasive in five settings:

  • health care and public health
  • welfare and support services
  • police, public order and criminal law
  • employment
  • society at large.

In these settings stigma and discrimination negatively impact people’s access to services (including health care), fair treatment in the justice system, employment opportunities, relationships with family and friends, their feelings of social inclusion, and their drug use.

To effectively address stigma and discrimination, a multi-faceted approach that addresses individual attitudes and behaviours, in tandem with strategies focused on societal structures and systems, is required.

About the report

The Commission’s report is a commitment of the Alcohol and Other Drugs Action Plan 2015-17, which aimed to reduce the adverse impact of alcohol and other drugs on Queenslanders.

The report sought to encourage policy discussion and enhance understanding of the occurrence and impacts of stigma and discrimination. It also informs services, and the community, about ways to address the attitudes, policies and practices that may directly or indirectly host stigma and discrimination.

The options for reform are based on government and community consultation, as well as commissioned research  Reducing stigma and discrimination for people experiencing problematic alcohol and other drug use, by the Drug Policy Modelling Project, National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of New South Wales.


Implementation of this report requires commitment and collective action by community, government and industry across a range of areas including health, employment, education, housing and justice.

The options for reform include some actions that can be commenced quickly, while other options require ongoing policy discussion and consideration with a range of people from the community and government.

The Commission will publish an update report outlining progress made towards implementing the options for reform, 12 months after the publication of this report.

Hear some of the Commissioner's thoughts in this video

Progress update 2020

Changing attitudes, changing lives has been prepared by the Queensland Mental Health Commission (the Commission) to examine ways to reduce stigma and discrimination which has a negative impact on the mental health and wellbeing of people experiencing problematic alcohol and/or other drug (AOD) use.

The options for reform paper published in March 2017 outlines 18 options for reform regarding systemic issues to address stigma and discrimination for people experiencing AOD use, and their families.

Since the release of Changing attitudes, changing lives much has been achieved by agencies involved in the implementation of options. Progress is outlined in the Final Progress Report.

The Commission has made progress through:

  • Funding the Queensland Injectors Health Network to deliver the ‘Putting Together the Puzzle’ anti-stigma training program to total of 172 health professionals, including General Practitioners, nurses, psychologists, social workers, allied health workers and students from primary and tertiary health care settings.
  • Piloting and evaluating the Stretch2Enage framework.
  • Initiating discussions about the risks and benefits of decriminalisation for personal use and/or possession of illicit drugs, similar to other countries.

The most significant progress towards protecting people against stigma and discrimination has been the commencement in its entirety of the Human Rights Act 2019 on 1 January 2020. A complaints process to the Queensland Human Rights Commission is now available and provides additional safeguards.