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The study examined the influence of personal growth initiative and public self-consciousness on perceived stigmatization among drug users in Uyo Metropolis. Two hundred and thirty-four (234) participants (171 males and 63 females) were selected from major bunks in Uyo Metropolis. These participants were selected using purposive sampling technique. Perceived Stigmatization Scale for drug users (King, Dinos, Shaw, Watson, Stevens, Passetti, Weich & Mar, 2007), Personal Growth Initiative Scale (Robitschek, 1999), and Public Self-Consciousness Scale (Scheier & Carver, 1985) were the instruments used in this study for data collected. The study utilized a 2 x 2 factorial design. A 2 way Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) for unequal sample size was employed for data analysis.  Results revealed that personal growth initiative exerted an influence on perceived stigmatization among drug users in Uyo metropolis [F (1,230) = 11.94, P.<.05]. Results also revealed that public self-consciousness also exerted a significant influence on perceived stigmatization among drug users in Uyo metropolis [F(1,230) = 4.13, P.05]. Recommendations, implication of the study and conclusion were made. Suggestions for further study as well as limitations of the study were also provided.



1.1 Background of the study

Stigma is a major challenge for those who have an addiction to drugs or alcohol. Stigmas are imposed by society, communities, friends and family members and can cause major discrimination and hurt (Corrigan, Kuwabara & O’ Shaughnessy, 2009). For people who use drugs, or are recovering from problematic drug use, stigma can be a barrier to a wide range of opportunities and rights. People who are stigmatized for their drug involvement face difficulties enduring social rejection, labeling, stereotyping and discrimination, even in the absence of any negative consequences associated with their drug use. This manifests in a variety of ways, including denial of employment or housing. People with substance misuse issues are less likely to be offered help than people with a mental illness or physical disability. There is an extensive body of literature documenting the stigma associated with alcohol and other drug problems (Luoma & Twohig, 2007). No physical or psychiatric condition is more associated with social disapproval and discrimination than substance use (Corrigan, Kuwabara & O’ Shaughnessy, 2009).

Even among people who use drugs, stigma toward other people who use drugs can be common. People who use a socially acceptable, legal drug, such as alcohol, may have negative prejudices against people who use illegal drugs, such as marijuana. People who use illegal so-called ‘soft drugs’ such as marijuana may have negative prejudices against people who use illegal powdered or ‘hard’ drugs, such as cocaine. And people who inhale or snort their drug of choice may have prejudice against people who inject a drug (McLaughlin & Long, 1996).

Stigma is a Greek word that in its origins referred to a type of marking or tattoo that was cut or burned into the skin of criminals, slaves, or traitors in order to visibly identify them as blemished or morally polluted persons. These individuals were to be avoided particularly in public places (O'Driscoll, Heary, Hennessy & McKeague, 2012). Stigma is the experience of being “deeply discredited” or marked due to one’s “undesired differentness.” To be stigmatized is to be held in contempt, shunned or rendered socially invisible because of a socially disapproved status (Smith, 2012). According to National Agency on Drug Control (2011), when a person is not able to meet expectations because their behaviour or attributes are undesirable or unacceptable, then stigma disqualifies a person from social acceptance. O’Kelly (2003) suggests that stigma is an undesirable attribute that is incongruous with our stereotype of what a given individual should be. It is a use of negative labels and is about disrespect. It is not just a matter of using the wrong word but labels that person who has the substance use disorder.

            Stigmas can occur in many different forms. The most common deal with culture, obessity, gender, race, illness, behaviour and disease. Many people, who have been stigmatized, feel as though they are transforming from a whole person to a tainted one (O’Kelly (2003). They feel different and devalued by others. This can happen in the workplace, educational settings, health care, the criminal justice system and even in their own family. For example, the parents of overweight women are less likely to pay for their daughters' college education than are the parents of average-weight women. Furthermore, persons with mental health problems especially those who are substance induced may be abandoned by family members to avoid embarrassment from members of the society.

Stigma may also be described as a label that associates a person to a set of unwanted characteristics that form a stereotype (Levin & Laar, 2004). Once people identify and label our differences, others will assume that is just how things are and the person will remain stigmatized until the stigmatizing attribute is undetected. A considerable amount of generalization is required to create groups, meaning that someone is put in a general group regardless of how well that person actually fit into that group (Louise & Eilis, 2014). However, the attributes that society selects differ according to time and place. What is considered out of place in one society could be the norm in another. When society categorizes individuals into certain groups the labeled person is subjected to status loss and discrimination (Williams, Neighbors & Jackson, 2003). Society will start to form expectations about those groups once the cultural stereotype is secured.

Stigma may affect the behavior of those who are stigmatized. Those who are stereotyped often start to act in ways that their stigmatizers expect of them. For example, drug users may form cliques to encourage one another and as a result continue in the consumption of drugs. It not only changes their behavior, but it also shapes their emotions and beliefs (Williams, Neighbors & Jackson, 2003). Members of stigmatized groups also face prejudice that causes depression (i.e. deprejudice) (Louise & Eilis, 2014). These stigmas put a person's social identity in threatening situations, like low self-esteem.

There are different types of stigmas that are brought to mind when thinking about drugs or alcohol users. The majority of these stigmas make negative assumptions about lifestyles that include drugs and alcohol. Some of the stigmas people hold about drug users are: people who abuse substances are typically deviants and don’t engage in society like the rest of the population (O'Driscoll, Heary, Hennessy & McKeague, 2012). They embody different values to mainstream society: skirting the edges, unemployed, victims of bad upbringings, high school drop outs and prostitutes. They take drugs in dark, dirty alleyways or squats, rob innocent people, go on binges and engage in high risk behaviors.  The reality of substance abusers is that the majority are just like everyone else. They are parents, children, friends, workmates, sisters and brothers. They hold down jobs, have friends, go to social functions and enjoy their weekends. Some fail to manage their addiction and do become entrenched in a lifestyle that the stereotypes embody, but many do not. An addiction does not discriminate between rich and poor, young or old. Medical workers, law enforcement, insurance companies and employers may tap into their own stereotypes if they are faced with an addict (Link & Phelan, 2001). An employer may believe that persons suffering from alcoholism are untrustworthy and fire them from their role. A police officer may think that because someone is a heroin addict the person will be involved in a theft. Most people who have a substance abuse problem are able to exist in society without causing problems for others (Hughey, 2012). Substance abusers will deny their problem and hide it from others for fear of being discriminated. They will feel the shame associated with a stereotype and be weakened by the constant negative connotations of addiction (Campbell & Deacon, 2006). They may also struggle with their problem for too long without getting help until the consequences are too severe.

Several factors have been reported to influence perceived stigmatization of drug users but this study will focus on personal growth initiative and public self-consciousness. Personal growth initiative is one of the interesting topics for the developmental psychologists especially from adolescent’s perspective. Robitschek (1999) defined personal growth initiative as an active and intentional involvement in the self-change process. Luoma and Twohig (2007) defined personal growth initiative as a metacognitive construct that describes an orientation towards actively and purposefully engaging in the growth seeking process. Luoma and Twohig (2007) assert that personal growth initiative contains cognitive components (e.g. motivation to change, knowledge of the change process, and efficacy related to the change process) and behavioral components (e.g. general goals relating to personal change and plans to attain those goals). For example, an individual high in personal growth initiative might critically evaluate past, current, and future experiences to both determine potential areas for growth and monitor growth experiences. Behaviorally, these individuals would likely seek out experiences deemed important to personal growth. In contrast, an individual low in personal growth initiative would not consider growth as a criterion for examining past, current, and future experiences and therefore would not behaviorally seek out intentional growth experiences. Given that personal growth initiative is a broad goal orientation, it is likely that personal growth initiative would affect the outcome and process of a variety of decisions. One of such decision is how an individual chooses to cope with a stressful life event (Robitschek, 1999). An individual high in personal growth initiative might choose to cope or “feel better” through striving to learn and change from the experience. This goal of personal growth might require a critical evaluation and deeper exploration of feelings and thoughts related to this event. 

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