Behavior Analysis in Practice

, Volume 12, Issue 4, pp 758–766 | Cite as

Stigma, Discrimination, Treatment Effectiveness, and Policy Support: Comparing Behavior Analysts’ Views on Drug Addiction and Mental Illness

  • Catalina N. Rey
  • Allison N. Kurti
  • Gary J. Badger
  • Alex H. Cohen
  • Sarah H. HeilEmail author
Special Section: Diversity and Inclusion


Individuals with substance use disorders (SUDs) often face discrimination. A recent study found that people in the general population hold significantly more negative views toward persons with drug addiction than those with other mental illnesses (Barry et al. in Psychiatric Services, 65(10), 1269–1272, 2014). It is possible that these negative attitudes stem from the historical view of addiction as a moral shortcoming or lack of willpower. Behavior analysts’ approach to behavior is guided by the underlying philosophy of behaviorism, which proposes that behavior is determined by genetic and environmental factors, as opposed to the free will of an individual. Because behavior analysts view behavior as determined and do not assign responsibility to an individual for his or her behavior, one would hypothesize that behavior analysts would not view individuals with SUDs more negatively than those with other mental disorders. This study surveyed 288 behavior analysts regarding their views on SUDs and mental disorders. Results showed that behavior analysts have significantly more negative attitudes toward people with SUDs than toward people with other mental disorders. Respondents reported a greater desire for social distance and greater acceptability of discrimination for people with SUDs than for people with mental disorders. They also reported less potential for recovery and lower support for policies to improve equity in insurance coverage and were less supportive of using government funding to improve treatment, housing, and job support for people with SUDs.


Substance use disorder Drug addiction Mental illness Behavior analyst Attitudes Stigma Discrimination Behaviorism 


Author Note

We would like to thank Dr. Matthew Price for his assistance with Qualtrics.

This work was partially supported by grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (R01DA036670, R01DA047867, and T32DA07242).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

Catalina N. Rey declares that she has no conflict of interest. Allison N. Kurti declares that she has no conflict of interest. Gary J. Badger declares that he has no conflict of interest. Alex H. Cohen declares that he has no conflict of interest. Sarah H. Heil declares that she has no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Association for Behavior Analysis International 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Catalina N. Rey
    • 1
  • Allison N. Kurti
    • 1
  • Gary J. Badger
    • 1
  • Alex H. Cohen
    • 1
  • Sarah H. Heil
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Vermont Center on Behavioral HealthUniversity of VermontBurlingtonUSA

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