A Qualitative Exploration of Addiction Disclosure and Stigma among Faculty Members in a Canadian University Context
1.2. Extent of the Problem: Addiction Estimates among Faculty Members
2. Guiding Concepts and Theoretical Framework
2.1. Addiction Stigma and Disclosure
2.2. Communication Privacy Management Theory
- What is the experience of deans and CMHPs who encounter FM addiction?
- How may addiction stigma affect FM disclosure and help-seeking?
- What may help reduce addiction stigma for FMs?
3. Materials and Methods
3.1. Study Design and Sample
3.2. Ethics Approval
3.3. Data Analysis
I’ve had one conversation with an FM here at the university. That’s mind-boggling to me, and it suggests that we have a huge issue with stigma and a fear, perhaps, of going to others and having an open conversation about these issues and how to get support. For me that’s particularly troubling, because when we look at our broader community, we know that these are massive issues, and it would be naïve to think that they do not happen with the same intensity and rate that we see elsewhere in the community.(Dean 5)
The person was becoming more disconnected within the department, and there were concerns from colleagues and the department head with respect to literally finding the person at the pub, in the afternoons, and not showing as much care around things like personal grooming.(Dean 2)
He was a very smart person, uh … you know … [a] person of integrity and good work habits. However, then for periods he would just go—this isn’t a very precise term—but go off-kilter. His attendance would be spotty, sloppiness would be apparent in his work.(Dean 4)
In retrospect, I’m just hypothesizing, but knowing about the alcohol issues that this individual had, it makes sense as to why he was never able to make morning meetings, was always late, and didn’t answer e-mail. He wasn’t just the absent-minded professor, there was actually something going on there.(Dean 7)
There was a prof who was an alcoholic. I only knew him professionally, but some of his colleagues were complaining that they could smell booze on him. Then I noticed his erratic behavior, and then he behaved very badly with some students,so I was mad at him. He ended up dying shortly after. But before the outburst with the students, he was doing his job, he handled a lot of teaching and students and generally was—for most of the time I’ve known him (which was at least 25 years)—I guess, he was a pretty high performing FM.(Dean 10)
My gut feeling is that [most people think] depression or anxiety-related disorders are not the fault of the individual. And they might assume, they could assume, that an addiction could be personality-related or just [someone] lacking self-control. Right? And so, I would say the risk of disclosing a substance abuse issue is probably higher than some of the medical, the well-known medical conditions that you might disclose from a mental health perspective.(Dean 3)
There’s a stigma of shame with addiction because it’s perceived as negative coping, as opposed to something like a bipolar diagnosis, or anxiety. I think, by and large, they’re seen differently, even though we know it’s a chronic issue like any other chronic disease, but there’s the social stigma and shame attached. It doesn’t typically come up until there’s a negative consequence, right? I think that the attached or collateral shame around the negative consequence also contributes to it. I mean, so for instance if you had a diabetic who had a significant drop in their blood sugar and lost consciousness in the hallway, you know there’s not going to be the same perception of shame, as opposed to someone binge drinking and passing out in the classroom.(Dean 9)
I think that there is more sympathy and understanding for physical impediments and conditions and ailments, things that you can see. For things that you can’t see, I think people tend to blame the victim, or blame the patient. People expect you to just “get over it.” If you can’t, you are viewed as weak.(Dean 6)
4.1. Alcohol Culture
There, there is a culture of alcohol in our faculty, it really isn’t nearly as prevalent as it was 20 or 30 years ago but there’s a few groups that I am aware of who head to the pub together on a Friday afternoon.(Dean 2)
I think there are high stakes of disclosing a substance use disorder amongst faculty. That said, we live also in a culture where we make jokes about wine to help us at the end of the day, and you know, there’s certain parts of the culture I think that allow for it like, “Oh, let’s go get a drink!”, there’s a certain glam in the culture, where drinking socially is good and then we don’t kind of talk about the other stuff.(CMHP 5)
4.2. Productivity Culture
FMs are afraid to come out because of the fear of how it would be perceived. That an adult, somebody with a PhD, cannot handle day-to-day stress, that they would be considered weak, which may prevent [them from] getting a career opportunity.(Dean 1)
I think that’s a big part of non-disclosure; it’s recognition, it’s competitiveness, its reputation.(Dean 7)
FMs may not want to disclose addiction because [doing so] is voluntarily disclosing a potential weakness that, in a competitive world, could be a disadvantage. And it starts to color how people see your performance.(Dean 6)
I haven’t encountered a single FM with an addiction. Even though it’s 1 in 10 people, right? You know it’s because FMs are fairly high functioning. If you can get your papers out there and get grants then, you know, people don’t really care about the rest.(CMHP 5)
I am aware of an FM with a substance issue but have not been approached by the person. It’s because of academic reputation. I hear more about people in supporting staff, but I don’t hear about FMs.(CMHP 3)
4.3. Faculty Type
How intrusive can you be without being overly intrusive? If you try to intervene, they [the FM] might say, “Well it’s none of your business, and you’re harassing or bullying me,” or when you’re really coming out of a place of concern, and again [worry about the FM’s] fitness to practice, it’s more opaque in an academic institution than when you’re in [clinical] practice.(Dean 7)
There’s another piece, though, that is really important to think about: there are a lot of things that university professors do that could kill you. Right? And so, when we compare it to, you know, if you’re human resources staff, if you come into work drunk, [at least] you’re not going to blow up the lab.
There are different ways we describe male substance abuse versus female substance abuse. For women, everything is a strike against them when it comes to tenure, so they are ultra-careful and have to be more perfect than the men.(Dean 7)
4.5. Peer Support
Peer support is certainly something on the student side that we’re keeping an eye on. I’ve talked about it for staff and faculty, but it’s not quite got that same sort of accessibility, I think, for staff in faculty, but it is something in terms of the Campus Mental Health Strategy that we’re starting to have conversations about.(CMHP 5)
What’s missing is a peer model where somebody who’s been through addiction themselves offers their time, like a spiritual director would. People go to therapy, counselling, psychology, psychiatry, or they go to an addiction treatment center. I think peer counselling is what’s missing.(CMHP 4)
I think it would be interesting if there were a recovery meeting, a 12-step program with a cohort of other academics. It would be doubly supportive because you’re working through your addiction, but you also have this shared knowledge of what the academic context is.(Dean 9)
4.6. Reducing Stigma through “Vulnerable Leadership”
The community becomes safer when those in more of an authoritative space lead with vulnerability.(CMHP 2)
People have conceptions of what mental illness is, and that conception doesn’t necessarily include addictions. I think we have to be a little more explicit on that. Maybe it’s bringing in people to talk about their experiences with alcohol or other substances. We had one FM speak openly about her anxiety and how she’s dealt with it—that got a lot of uptake, right? The video was viewed by thousands of our community members.
4.7. Protective Policies
FMs are known for what they do, but are we providing the resources to allow them to come forward without consequence?(CMHP 4)
I have my doubts about referrals to EAP for people who are seeking support for addictions. When a person reaches out for help and doesn’t get it, the person goes 15 steps backward in terms of ever asking for help again. We tell people we have an EAP program and give them a pamphlet that I find so simplistic and patronizing, like how (will this help?) It’s about facilitating that (request for support), not just about “here’s a card, here’s a card, here’s a card.”(CMHP 3)
5.1. Alcohol Culture
5.2. Productivity Culture
5.4. Faculty Type
5.5. Benefits of FM Disclosure
6.1. Expanding Peer Support and Collegiate Recovery Programs for FMs
6.2. Adopting a Recovery-Friendly Workplace and Protective Policies
Academia exerts powerful and toxic identity orthodoxies which make addressing stigma within universities particularly challenging. I commend the @recoveringacademics initiative for legitimizing and celebrating a recovery identity, my identity, in what can sometimes be an inhospitable environment. Let’s make our universities recovery-friendly!
8. Limitations and Future Research
Institutional Review Board Statement
Informed Consent Statement
Data Availability Statement
Conflicts of Interest
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|Are you aware of or have you been approached by FM(s) for support with a substance-related addiction?|
Can you tell me about one or more experience(s) with a FM with substance-related addiction(s) (e.g., approached you for support, workload reduction, stress leave, etc.)?
Have you had any concerns about FMs regarding substance-related addiction?
|In your opinion, what are some of the risks for a FM to self-disclose a substance-related addiction? How do these risks differ from other professions, if at all? Do they differ for other members of the university community more broadly (e.g., staff, students)?|
In your opinion, what are some of the differences of self-disclosing and seeking help for a substance-related addiction compared to other mental health issues (e.g., anxiety, grief, depression)?
Are you aware of any types of supports and resources for substance-related addiction on campus?
If a FM approached you with a concern about substance-related addiction, what types of supports would you offer?
What additional supports are needed for FMs with substance-related addiction (e.g., on and off campus)?
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Burns, V.F.; Walsh, C.A.; Smith, J. A Qualitative Exploration of Addiction Disclosure and Stigma among Faculty Members in a Canadian University Context. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2021, 18, 7274. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18147274
Burns VF, Walsh CA, Smith J. A Qualitative Exploration of Addiction Disclosure and Stigma among Faculty Members in a Canadian University Context. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2021; 18(14):7274. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18147274Chicago/Turabian Style
Burns, Victoria F., Christine A. Walsh, and Jacqueline Smith. 2021. "A Qualitative Exploration of Addiction Disclosure and Stigma among Faculty Members in a Canadian University Context" International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 18, no. 14: 7274. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18147274