From personal tragedy to personal challenge: responses to stigma among sober living home residents and operators

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Sober living homes for people attempting to maintain abstinence from alcohol and drugs can act as a buffer against the high rates of substance misuse that are endemic to many urban environments. Sober living homes and other group homes for people with disabilities have faced persistent opposition from neighbourhood associations, which raises the question of stigma. This article describes the responses of sober living home residents and operators to the threat of stigma across a diverse set of neighbourhoods. Ten focus groups were conducted with 68 residents and operators of 35 sober living homes in Los Angeles County, California, between January 2009 and March 2010. Results showed that few residents reported experiences of blatant stigmatisation by neighbours; however, they were well aware of the stereotypes that could be ascribed to them. Despite this potential stigma, residents developed valued identities as helpers in their communities, providing advice to neighbours whose family or friends had substance use problems, and organising community service activities to improve the appearance of their neighbourhoods. With their attention to local context, sober living home residents and operators challenge the personal tragedy approach of much traditional advocacy on health-related stigma.

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