A life sentence of stigma prevents heroin and cocaine addicts from recovering and rejoining society, a think-tank has said.
The Government must tackle the "extreme prejudice" against drug users if it is to succeed in getting addicts off benefits, back into work and playing their full role in society, the UK Drug Policy Commission (UKDPC) report said.
The UKDPC study, which found Britons need to show more compassion if the current barriers to rehabilitation are to be overcome, comes as the Home Office signals a move towards a greater emphasis on abstinence and getting users completely free of drugs.
Plans to withdraw welfare benefits from addicts who refuse treatment are also being considered.
Charlie Lloyd, a senior lecturer at York University and the report's author, said: "There is no getting away from the fact that our current society is none too keen on drug users, and even former users, but such attitudes betray a lack of understanding about the nature of addiction which is having many profound effects.
"Use of heroin and crack, in particular, can be seen to come with a 'stigma life sentence' which is a crucial barrier to recovery and rejoining society."
He said that one way of moving towards greater compassion was to learn lessons from the United States, where California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger holds a "recovery month" every September to educate the public about addiction.
Professor Colin Blakemore, of the UKDPC, an independent body analysing the UK's drugs policy, added that the terms "junkie" and "addict" were "pejorative shorthand for perceived social decay, conveying a sense of anxiety out of proportion to reality".
"Such hostile attitudes only add to the barriers of escape from drug dependence," he said.