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Unread 01-25-2006, 01:18 PM   #1
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Default The Words we choose matter

Changing the stigma associated with opioid addiction treatment will benefit everyone. It will allow patients to more easily regain their self esteem, allow politicians to appropriate funding, allow doctors to treat without disapproval of their peers, let the public understand this is a medical condition as real as any other.

One way to combat the stigma is with the words used to describe the condition and treatments associated with it.

"...In discussing substance use disorders, words can be powerful when used to inform, clarify, encourage, support, enlighten, and unify. On the other hand, stigmatizing words often discourage, isolate, misinform, shame, and embarrass. Recognizing the power of words, this guide is designed to raise awareness around language and offer alternatives to stigmatizing terminology associated with substance use disorders. It is offered primarily as a resource to those who work within the field of prevention, treatment, and recovery support...."

Excerpt from "Substance Use Disorders:
A Guide to the Use of Language" published by SAMHSA

Drug War terms have been very effective at creating the stigma and demonizing drugs and the people who use them. It is unrealistic to expect that these words can now create an opposite image in the minds of the public. To change the perception of the disease of addiction we must eliminate the slang terms and replace them with medical terms or other appropriate respectful language. Fortunately this is something we can all do, and have an impact on the stigma and discrimination endured by the people suffering from this condition. Below are some words and suggested alternatives.

Will the entire recovery community be willing to adjust language that has been the tradition for years? Probably not, but will people just entering this phase of their lives, with effects of stigma and discrimination still fresh in their minds, consider their use of language, hopefully. Even if only some people replace stigmatizing terms with medical or otherwise respectable language, it will help reduce stigma and make addiction treatment more accessible in the future.

Even if you don't agree with some of the alternative words, please find at least one you can change or one not on the list. Anyway you can help decrease stigma will help.

The 01-24-2006 USA Today article shows how correct phrasing and descriptors can medicalize and add creditability to the condition.

In contrast this article written 01-23-2006 [link no longer active] sets a different tone by using the word "addict" 8 times in a short article (no one quoted used that word, only the reporter)

For more reading on "The language of Addiction Medicine" see:
and the entire SAMHSA guide:

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