Words Matter: Avoiding Stigmatizing Language
Jan 26, 2022
Individuals with substance use disorders overcome many challenges in pursuit of their long-term, ongoing recovery. Like many other diseases, these disorders affect a person’s brain and behavior, and do not discriminate based on age, gender, race or economic status. One way we can all help make the recovery journey a bit easier for those affected is to understand how certain stigmatizing words can be harmful and triggering. We can make an impact by educating our communities about addiction and choosing language that supports our neighbors who may be struggling in this area.
Why Words Matter
The words we choose can help alleviate feelings of isolation and stigma. The more we use “us vs. them” language, the more we can make someone with a substance use disorder feel unworthy of acceptance. Even those in recovery are often hurt by language that supports prejudice towards their identity and equates them with their history of substance use. Stigmatizing language hurts as it draws comparisons amongst people and inflicts a sense of shame. When dealing with diseases such as these, we often see that many prospective patients turn away from seeking help as a result of feeling judged. We should always do our best to avoid stigmatizing language and use words that promote understanding and healing within our communities.
Choosing Your Words Wisely
|Instead of this…||Say this:||Why?|
|Drug addict/abuser/ user||Person with a substance use disorder||It’s important to make a distinction between the person and the disease. Person-first language helps us focus first on the individual and shows that they are more than their disease.|
|Alcoholic||Person with an alcohol use disorder|
|Drug/alcohol habit or problem||Substance use disorder, regular substance use||Addiction is a disease, not a habit. These terms indicate that recovery is simply a matter of willpower, which is not true and denies the medical nature of the condition.|
|Drug/ Alcohol Abuser||Drug misuse, harmful use, inappropriate use||“Abuse” is often used as a clinical diagnosis and the word “Abuser” feeds stigma. Use the alternatives that describe the action and not label the individual.|
|Clean||Substance-free, not currently taking drugs or actively drinking, testing negative, in recovery||These commonly used terms describe test results and are stigmatizing because they associate the symptoms of the disease of addiction with cleanliness. Instead, use the clinical terms that describe the current action.|
|Dirty||Testing positive, actively using|
|Former addict||Person in recovery, addiction survivor||The first term is negative and stigmatizing, making no distinction between the person and the disease.|
|Sober||In recovery||Both of these terms indicate recovery but using “in recovery” acknowledges the life-long work someone with a substance use disorder undertakes in their recovery journey. Sober suggests a point in time and recovery indicates a lifestyle.|
Having their community’s support is so important to those in recovery and taking time to learn and understand the nuances of substance use disorders shows ongoing support of their recovery journey. Together, we can help break down this barrier of stigmatizing language to better support those who need us the most.
If someone you care about is struggling with substance use disorder, we can help. Reach out to us via chat or call 833-505-4673.