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.

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
Dirty 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.

1. DRAFT: Changing the Language of Addiction.” Office of National Drug Control Policy, 3 Nov 216.
2. Ferner, Matt. “Here’s One Simple Way We Can Change The Conversation About Drug Abuse.” The Huffington Post, 3 Mar 2015.