As part of our intensive examination of the stigma surrounding substance use disorder (SUD), we strive to help patients in recovery, healthcare professionals, and others who work with them become aware of situations that may – albeit unconsciously – add to the already too heavy stigma of SUD. Stigma can keep people from asking for help, lead to increased overdoses, and lead those suffering from SUD to develop and internalize feelings of exclusion and shame.
It’s no secret that societal views regarding SUD promote stigma, negative stereotypes, and misinformation that can stand in the way of recovery. By exposing themselves to a group of people who don’t and/or don’t want to understand the facts about SUD, those battling the disorder are easily tempted to give up the fight or even skip it altogether, leading to only 10% actually receiving treatment.
One way to reduce the stigma surrounding SUD is to consider the words you use when discussing it. Experts suggest using person-first language to remind yourself that you’re talking about another human being. Instead of using the words, “addict,” “user,” “substance or drug abuser,” “junkie,” etc.,” try saying “person with SUD,” “patient,” or “person in recovery.” These terms separate the patient’s identity from his or her disease, making it easier to view and treat that individual as an actual person.
The Associated Press, whose style guide is the leading reference for media and corporate communications in the US, suggests avoiding words that evoke negative bias like “abuse” or “problem” in favor of the word “use” with an appropriate modifier such as “risky,” “unhealthy,” “excessive,” or “heavy.” There’s a lot of information about hurtful and helpful vocabulary on the internet. For a more complete list of terms to avoid and terms to use, click here or visit Words Matter – Terms to Use and Avoid When Talking About Addiction | National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
 National Institute on Drug Abuse National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021, December 2). Words matter – terms to use and avoid when talking about addiction. www.drugabuse.gov. Retrieved January 14, 2022, from https://www.drugabuse.gov/nidamed-medical-health-professionals/health-professions-education/words-matter-terms-to-use-avoid-when-talking-about-addiction