Language and Stigma

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As the opioid crisis continues to explode in the United States, it seems there is now no one who remains unscathed.  Citizens from everywhere are losing their spouses, children, co-workers, friends, and families to the horrors of substance abuse and addiction.  It is no longer simply the stereotype of the disheveled man on the street corner; addiction can claim any gender, any race, and any socioeconomic background—it does not discriminate.  By and large, the addictions community has shifted from a behavioral standpoint on the matter to a medical one; people can then release the guilt and shame that accompanies the disease and seek appropriate treatment. However, despite the ever-growing awareness, there is still enormous stigma and judgement regarding this affliction.

We are finding more and more that language regarding addiction does matter.  Using terms like “junkie” or “dope fiend” can carry tremendous negative impact and serve as a strict barrier to treatment.  All in all, people are more likely to seek help for their problem if they feel safe, warm, and supported, as opposed to judged and scrutinized.  Typically, someone in this situation has endured enough embarrassment and hardship already; they do not need to be reminded of their failures relentlessly with each word that is spoken.  Remember, they are a person just like you, and you are only one “hit” away from ending up exactly in their shoes.  Let us not allow our pre-conceived notions and judgements to keep our fellows from achieving their rehabilitation goals.

Below is a chart that details which terms to use and those that would be best to avoid.  Let us stick together and use person-centered language to combat the devastation of drug addiction!