The Power of Words: Using Non-Stigmatizing Language to Talk About Addiction

Stigmatizing language can be a barrier to substance misuse recovery, impact how society views addiction and people struggling with addiction, and affect how a person in recovery views themselves and their disorder.1 This is why the words used in addiction recovery have undergone changes, in order to reduce stigma and encourage people to seek help.1

This page will help you understand how stigma affects addiction recovery, why words matter, terms to use and avoid when talking about addiction, and how to find help for addiction at Greenhouse Treatment Center.

How Stigma Affects Addiction Recovery

Stigma refers to stereotyping, discriminating labels that provoke a negative response, such as addict, user, or alcoholic.1,2  These labels are used against specific groups of people, including those with substance use disorders (SUDs).1

Stigma often stems from outdated, incorrect thoughts or beliefs, such as the idea that addiction is a moral failure instead of a chronic, treatable disease, and it can impede people from seeking help when they need it.1

is a response that people struggling with addiction may experience, in part, as a response to internalized, self-stigma, or externalized, societal stigma.3  People with SUDs may experience shame for a variety of reasons, such as when they feel that they have somehow failed themselves or others, have not lived up to their own or societal standards, or due to societal stigmatization.3

Why Do Words Matter?

The words that people use to describe and discuss substance use disorders can impact how a person views themselves and their disorder. Word choice can also influence how healthcare providers and society as a whole react and respond to people with SUDs.1 For example, referring to someone as an “addict” defines them solely by their condition and does not take into account other aspects of their identity.2

Negative or stereotyping language can also influence the perceptions of healthcare providers as well as the willingness of public policymakers to allocate resources to necessary programs.1,5

Using updated, non-stigmatizing, and accurate language can help break down the stigma associated with addiction, which may help people with SUDs become more comfortable with seeking treatment.6

Terms to Avoid and Use When Talking About Addiction

Professional organizations, such as the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the American Psychological Association, have identified certain terms to avoid and have offered alternatives as a way of preventing stigma, stereotyping, and negative bias.1,2 Using person-first language is important to help maintain individual integrity, focus on the whole person, and avoid using language that defines the person by their condition.1

Some terms to avoid and their alternatives include:1

Find Help for Addiction at Greenhouse

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance misuse, it’s important to understand that help is available. Greenhouse Treatment Center knows that every person is unique and has their own treatment needs. Please call our admissions navigators at to learn more about our customized treatment options for yourself or a loved one, or visit our website to learn about rehab admissions, using insurance to pay for addiction treatment, and rehab payment options.

Learn more about our services and levels of addiction treatment, including:

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