Words Matter

Words Matter. Especially When it Comes to Addiction.

Words are powerful. Help reduce negative stereotypes about addiction by changing your language.

Although there’s been a concerted effort to bring awareness to the importance of person-first language, stigmatizing language related to substance use disorders is still widely used in our communities, perpetuating negative perceptions of those suffering from addiction.

In a recent post on barriers to treatment, we defined stigma as a strong lack of respect for a person or group of people or a bad opinion about them because they have done something society does not approve of. For example, many still consider addiction a moral failure or character flaw rather than a chronic disease like asthma or diabetes that requires medical treatment. This type of judgement further isolates those suffering from addiction, which can ultimately impact an individual’s decision to seek or complete lifesaving treatment. 

In a 2014 national survey on drug use, only 11% of the 22.7 million people in need of treatment for alcohol or drug use received treatment. In addition to lack of insurance coverage and cost, a primary reason for not seeking treatment included concerns about responses from friends, family, and community members, and the impact on an individual’s job status.

This is why person-first language is crucial to expanding access to treatment. Person-first language emphasizes that someone with a disease is, first and foremost, a person; the disease is not their defining characteristic.

Below are examples of appropriate person-first language as it relates to substance use disorders.

As Shatterproof states, “it’s not about being sensitive, or polite, or politically correct. It’s about access to quality treatment and care.” 

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