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Stereotype threat and social function in opioid substitution therapy patients




People with a history of substance abuse are subject to widespread stigmatization. It seems likely that this societal disapproval will result in feelings of stereotype threat, or the belief that one is the target of demeaning stereotypes. If so, stereotype threat has the potential to contribute to functional difficulties including poor social outcomes.


Eighty drug users on opioid substitution therapy and 84 demographically matched controls completed measures of mental health and social function. The opioid substitution therapy group were additionally asked to complete a measure that focused on their feelings of stereotype threat in relation to their drug use history. Bivariate correlations and hierarchical regression analyses were conducted to establish the magnitude and specificity of the relationship between stereotype threat and social functioning.


Relative to controls, the opioid substitution therapy group reported higher levels of negative affect and schizotypy, and poorer social functioning, with all three of these indices significantly correlated with their feelings of stereotype threat. The results also showed that stereotype threat contributed significant unique variance to social functioning in the opioid substitution therapy group, even after taking into account other background, clinical, and mental health variables.


Social functioning is an important aspect of recovery, yet these data indicate that people with a history of drug abuse who believe they are the target of stereotypical attitudes have poorer social functioning. This relationship holds after controlling for the impact of other variables on social functioning, including mental health. The theoretical and practical implications of these findings are discussed.

Practitioner points

  • Concerns about being stereotyped can shape the social experiences of opioid substitution therapy patients.
  • Opioid substitution therapy patients who feel negatively stereotyped experience greater social function deficits, and this relationship emerges after controlling for important clinical and mental health variables.
  • Understanding the relationship between feeling stereotyped and social function may assist practitioners in their treatment.
  • The study is cross-sectional, and thus, experimental or longitudinal research is required to determine the causal direction between stereotype threat and social function.