The Language of Addiction

by

Many people who are unfamiliar with addiction, and even those who think or talk about the disease every day, may find themselves unintentionally using words that perpetuate negative stigmas surrounding those with substance use problems. These words can shape or feed into the opinions of others, or even reveal longstanding stereotypes about addiction.

Some individuals may not realize the impact of the words they use. Increased addiction education and awareness can help combat some of the lingering negative stigmas and language that people with substance use issues hear every day, making it easier for them to recognize their addiction as a disease and focus on getting the treatment they need.

Starting today, become more conscious of the addiction terms and language you use. Below are a few commonly used words or phrases related to addiction that may seem benign, but which can actually feed into harmful addiction stereotypes.

Abuse/abuser

These words are often associated with violence, anger or a lack of control. According to Harvard Health Publications, clinicians are more likely to recommend a punitive treatment for a person described as an “abuser.”

Clean/dirty

Stereotypes about addiction

A person who has abstained from using drugs or alcohol might refer to themselves or be referred to by others as “clean,” and negative results of a drug test may casually be described as “clean” (no evidence of use). However, this implies that a person still struggling with a dependence on drugs or alcohol is inherently “dirty” or bad.

Replacements

The use of this term applies to discussions surrounding treatments for opioid dependence like methadone, Suboxone and Vivitrol. By describing them as “replacements,” it minimizes the validity of these treatments and implies that the individual is still actively using drugs. Methadone, Suboxone and Vivitrol are nothing more than medications prescribed to a person suffering from an illness.

Addict

Referring to an individual as an addict reduces their identity down to their struggle with substance use. Instead, experts and those in the addiction treatment industry have shifted toward people-first language: “a person with a drug addiction,” for example, is a better option than the dehumanizing “addict.”

Habit

A habit is something that can easily be broken through persistence or willpower. Addiction is more complicated than that, and, as a disease of the brain, requires medical treatment in addition to an emotional commitment to treatment and recovery.

All content provided on the Pyramid Healthcare, Inc. blog is for informational purposes only and is not intended to represent medical advice. Pyramid Healthcare, Inc. and its blog authors make no guarantees as to the accuracy or completeness of any information on this site or found by following any link on this site. Pyramid Healthcare, Inc. and its blog authors will not be liable for any errors or omissions in the information provided in the blog, nor be liable for any losses, injuries, or damages from the display or use of this information. The opinions stated in this blog reflect those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of Pyramid Healthcare, Inc. These terms and conditions are subject to change at any time with or without notice.