The lived experience of women in addiction recovery: The haunting specter of stigma in nurse-patient interactions

Date of Completion

January 2002


Health Sciences, Nursing




Stigma is an ancient evil. When associated with addiction and addiction recovery, it continues to be a most powerful and pervasive negative force in society. Perceptions, attitudes and beliefs of nurses about addiction and addiction recovery often reflect that of the general culture and become an unrecognized part of the subculture of nursing. These perceptions, attitudes and beliefs often serve as a prism through which patient needs and expectations are evaluated, nurse-patient interactions are guided, and care is rendered. Although numerous studies suggest that the perceived stigma associated with illicit drug use is more keenly felt by women than men, there is a lack of research that examines this phenomenon in nursing. Therefore, the purpose of this descriptive phenomenological study was to understand the meaning of the experience of feeling stigmatized by women in addiction recovery during interactions with registered nurses. Eleven women were interviewed using an in-depth design. Data was analyzed using Colaizzi's (1978) method of phenomenology. Two hundred and eighty statements were extracted and organized into six themes: (1) Living With An Ever Present Foe; (2) Keeping the Secret; (3) A Spiritual Journey; (4) We Are Ordinary Women; (5) Redefining Self; and (6) Challenging Stereotypes. ^ The major issue faced by the women who participated in this study springs from societal stigmatization of addiction, and consequently of addiction recovery. This social stigma presented as a formidable barrier that must be overcome for women in addiction recovery to remain abstinent and transform their lives. However, in spite of this seemingly insurmountable force, the women connected their past experiences with present feelings, learned to nurture themselves, and ultimately emerged as strong advocates for other women in addiction recovery. The result of this study highlight the need for nurses to reexamine their knowledge and understanding of the chronic nature of the addictive process, the long-term recovery needed, and the challenges that women face during the recovery process. To ensure better health outcomes and provide unconditional care, nurses must challenge existing approaches and shift their attitudes from adversarial, stigmatizing perspectives to facilitative, caring relationships. ^