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Changing the conversation

Language Matters – Help Change the Language of Addiction

To eliminate the stigma of substance use disorder (SUD) it is important to eliminate language that stigmatizes people with SUD. Many people, including persons with SUD and their families, use the word “addict” or “alcoholic” to describe someone with SUD. These words are used all the time without any thought given to their effect.

People would be shocked if a child with cancer were to be called a “cancer”. So why would a child who struggles with addiction be called an “addict”? Their illness should not define them; they are so much more than their disease.

This is not just a case of semantics or political correctness.  Research shows that these terms, along with others like substance “abuser” or substance “abuse”, adversely affect how persons with addiction are treated, even by mental health and addiction specialists. Experts suggest consistently using “person first” language.

What language should be used?

Instead of: Use:
“substance abuser”
“person with substance use disorder”
“person with addiction”
“alcoholic or addict in recovery”
“recovering alcoholic or addict”
“person in recovery”
“person in recovery from addiction”
“substance abuse”
“substance misuse”
“problematic substance use”
“clean and sober” “in recovery”
“dirty urine test” “positive urine test”