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Changing Stigmatizing Language around Substance Use Disorders

Beth Hess - Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Language matters. The language that we use to discuss substance use disorders can perpetuate stigma. And stigma against those with a substance use disorder can impact people’s willingness to seek help – for fear that they will be judged or discriminated against. Below are some examples of language associated with substance use disorders, and preferred terms that we can each practice using:

  • Person with a substance use disorder,” rather than “addict,” “alcoholic” or “drug abuser.” The latter three imply that the person is the problem, rather than has a problem.

  • Positive urine drug screen” rather than “dirty drug screen.” The first clearly states the results of a drug screen, the second uses language with an extremely negative connotation in association with a person.

  • Medication assisted treatment” rather than “replacement treatment.” “Replacement treatment” can sound like a person with an opioid use disorder is simply replacing one bad drug for another.

  • Withdrawal management” rather than “detox.” The term “withdrawal management” more accurately describes a service being provided, whereas “detox” has stigmatizing connotations about the inherent condition of a person.

We can all play a part in helping to reduce the stigma associated with substance use disorders by being mindful of the language that we use.

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