The language used when discussing substance use and addiction matters. Certain words can give a positive, negative, or neutral impressions. Labeling individuals as “addicts” or “junkies” enhances the stigma around substance use disorders and can deter people from seeking the treatment they need for recovery. Medical providers, community leaders, family, and friends all need to think twice about what terminology is used to discuss substance use disorders and the image that it presents.
Addiction is a disease, but one that is manageable. You wouldn’t talk down about someone with heart disease or diabetes and shame people away from getting help, so why should these issues occur with addiction? Instead, we should be using language that promotes understanding and supports recovery. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in 2014 there were approximately 22.5 million individuals in need of treatment for substance use disorders, but only 2.6 million received the care they need. It’s time to break down the barriers that language creates.
Here are a few ways you can change the way you talk about addiction and recovery:
- Use “substance use disorder” as opposed to “abuse” or “dependence.” You can also use “misuse” instead of “abuse”.
- Use person-first language: a person with a substance use disorder or struggling with addiction, not an addict, junkie, druggie, etc.
- Refrain from using “dirty” or “clean” when talking about drug use; instead say someone is in active addiction or is substance-free or in recovery.
In general, stop to think about what you are saying and how it may be perceived. It will take time to create change when it comes to weeding out stigmatizing language, but every voice counts. Start by changing how you talk about substance use disorders and recovery and then encourage others to do the same.
If someone you love is struggling with addiction, turn to Above It All to help them get the treatment they need for recovery. There is hope and recovery is possible.