We can reduce the stigma, and help save lives, just by changing our language.
We can reverse harmful stereotypes about addiction and improve access to care and support for people affected by this disease.
It starts with something that seems small, but actually makes a huge difference: the words and language we use to talk about addiction.
“Addiction has no boundaries. Addiction does not discriminate. It’s a disease, but it’s a treatable disease.”
Person-first language is proven to reduce stigma and improve treatment.
It's not about being sensitive, or polite, or politically correct. It's about access to quality treatment and care.
Person-first language doesn’t define a person based on any medical disorder she may have. It’s nonjudgmental, it’s neutral, and the diagnosis is purely clinical.
So what’s the person-first language that we should use to talk about addiction? The Office of National Drug Control Policy recommends these terms and phrases as a starting point.1,2
|Words to avoid||Words to use|
|Addict||Person with substance use disorder|
|Alcoholic||Person with alcohol use disorder|
|Drug problem, drug habit||Substance use disorder|
|Drug abuse||Drug misuse, harmful use|
|Drug abuser||Person with substance use disorder|
|Clean||Abstinent, not actively using|
|A clean drug screen||Testing negative for substance use|
|A dirty drug screen||Testing positive for substance use|
|Former/reformed addict/alcoholic||Person in recovery, person in long-term recovery|
|Opioid replacement, methadone maintenance||Medication assisted treatment|
By using person-first language like this, we can make great progress toward reducing the deadly stigma associated with addiction.