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Talking About Addiction Takes the Right Words

Oppressed man with a problem on a reception for a psychologist

There are many negative terms surrounding opioid and other addictions. Experts believe that the first step in reducing the stigma associated with the struggle is changing vocabulary. In The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a person dealing with addiction is identified as having an “opioid use disorder.” On the street and in society in general, they are called drug abusers, junkies or worse.

Like any person with a disability, someone struggling with a drug addiction should be identified using “person first” language. For example, they are not a “drug abuser,” but a “person battling an addiction.” The word abuser implies that the person is using the drugs willfully and by choice. Words such as abuse and abuser only serve to increase the stigma surrounding the current epidemic.

Experts further state that there is a distinction between addiction and dependency which needs to be made more clear. People who begin to use opioids because they are prescribed may develop a physical dependency on the painkillers. In other words, their bodies will experience withdrawal once they cease taking the medication. In contrast, addiction is a disorder in which a person compulsively uses more and more of the drug.

Using the correct language can make a world of difference in how the world views those battling an addiction. For example, the following words need to be replaced:

  • Abuser and addict: Instead of using these terms to identify someone, it is more acceptable to say that someone is suffering from an addiction.
  • Drug: Instead, use more specific terms like medication or psychoactive substance.
  • Clean or dirty: Replace these terms with proper medical ones like positive and negative.
  • Lapse and relapse: Neutral terms like resumed and recurrence are more acceptable.

When a person is battling an addiction, it is important to remember that they are, in fact, a person. People do not choose to become addicted to a substance and it’s important to remember that.

If you or a loved one is battling a substance-use disorder, reach out to our addiction rehabilitation center in Tampa. We are here to help. Call our center today to find out more about how we can assist you and your family.

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