Lived experiences of stigma and discrimination 

In recently conducted research, investigators have found that consumers of drug treatment and other health services in South Western Sydney experience stigma in a range of forms, and would benefit from more welcoming and supportive service.


diverse people CC pixabay

SSAC team members Professor Suzanne Fraser and Dr Adrian Farrugia are busy finalising the project report for this project. Using an in-depth qualitative interview method, the project collected and analysed the accounts of 20 people who had recently used inpatient withdrawal management services. The project had three key aims:

  1. identify and document experiences of stigma and discrimination among individuals accessing healthcare services in DHS after exiting an inpatient withdrawal management service;
  2. explore and analyse how service users understand and frame these experiences, and how, if at all, they affect their ability and willingness to access services;
  3. identify systemic issues in relevant settings that contribute to stigma and discrimination.

As detailed in the forthcoming report, stigma is experienced in many different healthcare settings, impeding access to a range of services upon completion of withdrawal management.

The project report will be finalised soon. Some key findings it will cover include:

Positive experiences

While participants described positive healthcare experiences, the expectations they articulated were not especially complex or high. Instead, they expected, and appreciated, forms of treatment that would be considered typical, or indeed the minimum, for many members of the community. This suggests that participants did not have sufficiently consistent experiences of quality care for these to become routine.


Experiences of healthcare settings in South Western Sydney vary but many participants reported stigmatising experiences in a range of settings – especially hospitals and general practice. Stigma acts as a barrier to healthcare in a number of ways, for example, some participants only seek care for very serious health concerns. Many participants described experiencing subtle, sometimes non-verbal forms of stigma, including being made to wait excessive amounts of time, being greeted without warmth and being ignored. These affected their willingness to engage with healthcare services.

Discharge plans

Withdrawal management services generally provide service users with a ‘discharge plan’ detailing how to access healthcare after they leave. We found many services users could describe these plans only vaguely, and the plans themselves often faced obstacles from the outset. While referrals may have been prepared, fulfilling them becomes complicated after exiting. What may seem straightforward when organised during treatment can become difficult on exiting as life circumstances and obligations change. This suggests that, given the stigma and discrimination recounted by our participants, service users may need more robust strategies to support healthcare access following alcohol and other drug treatment.


Project team


Professor Suzanne Fraser, National Drug Research Institute, Curtin University

Dr Adrian Farrugia, National Drug Research Institute, Curtin University

Dr Michael Edwards, Drug Health Services, South Western Sydney Local Health District

Ms Stephanie Hocking, Drug Health Services, South Western Sydney Local Health District


Ms Annie Madden, AO, National Drug Research Institute, Curtin University