What we all can do to reduce stigma around substance use disorder

Cross-posted on Public Health Insider.

The shame and stigma of living with substance use disorder (SUD) has prevented many people from getting the help and support they need. In the United States, more than 22 million people with SUD have recovered, but around 90 percent of people with SUD still don’t seek treatment due to fear of judgment and shame.  

To help reduce the stigma around those experiencing SUD, including alcohol use disorder, Public Health Seattle & King County and the Department of Community and Human Services (DCHS) collaborated to launch a new health education campaign.  

The campaign, called “Don’t Count Us Out,” breaks down misconceptions by showing recovery is possible, that support can make a difference in recovery, and the ways each of us can support those with SUD, including how to:

  • use supportive language,
  • have helpful conversations,
  • share local resources,
  • and show support on social media.

The campaign was developed based on insights gained from research findings and message testing conducted with King County adults in 2022 and was funded by $500,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds secured by King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn. 

Key facts about substance use disorder 

  • Recovery isn’t rare: 1 in 10 adults reports being in recovery from SUD, according to a 2017 research study. 
  • Addiction isn’t isolated to a small group of people: 46 percent, or almost half of Americans, have a close friend or loved one who has struggled with an addiction.  
  • Addiction is a health condition that needs treatment: 90 percent of people with addiction, however, never seek treatment mainly due to fear of judgment and shame.  
  • Relapse happens less than you might think: 1-4 times is the average most people relapse before achieving sustained recovery.  
  • Addiction doesn’t define someone’s future: 80 percent go on to accomplish at least one major life achievement, such as getting a job, finding a home, volunteering, or graduating. 
  • Support makes a difference: With more support, more people recover.


“When we end the silence around substance use disorder, it’s powerful to see not only how common addiction is, but also how common recovery is. People can and do get better and go on to accomplish their life goals and contribute to their community,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine. “However, far too many do not seek out the treatment that will help them move forward from fear of judgment and shame. By showing our support and reducing the stigma around treatment, we can help more people access the tools they need to recover.”

 “Recovery happens every day. With the right supports, recovery is not only possible – it’s the likely outcome,” said Kelli Nomura, Director of King County DCHS’s Behavioral Health and Recovery Division. “People’s mental health has suffered and substance use is on the rise since the start of the pandemic. As more people talk openly, we see how substance use disorders can affect any of us, but that it doesn’t have to determine our future. Connection and community are among our most potent antidotes, so don’t underestimate the difference you make when you voice your support.” 

Sample Campaign Messages

Visit the campaign website to test your knowledge and learn more


To learn more about the “Don’t Count Us Out” campaign, substance use disorder and how you can support recovery, go to www.SupportAddictionRecovery.com .  If someone is looking to begin their recovery process the Washington Recovery Helpline is available 24/7 at http://www.warecoveryhelpline.org or 1-866-789-1511. 

Originally posted 10/27/2022