How do you broach the subject of addiction?
Psychologists who examine the stigmas associated with opioid use believe that by correcting language in clinical and research contexts, the scientific community can aid in the dismantling of unfair preconceptions.
"Medically accurate language will eventually seep down into mainstream media and popular culture," says David Eddie, PhD, clinical psychologist and research scientist at Massachusetts General Hospital's Recovery Research Institute in Boston.
Here are some examples of stigmatizing words to avoid, as well as some alternatives.
The terms "drug abuse" and "drug abuser" are interchangeable.
According to research conducted by John Kelly, PhD, founder and director of the Recovery Research Institute, therapists have a higher level of bias toward patients classified as "drug abusers." Kelly suggests using the terms "substance use" and "individual with a substance use problem" instead.
"We don't talk like this about other illnesses, therefore we shouldn't talk like this about addiction," he argues. People with eating disorders, for example, are referred to as having an eating disorder rather than being food abusers.
"Addict," "alcoholic," and "user" are all terms used to describe someone who is addicted to something.
The phrases "addict," "alcoholic," and "user" all refer to persons who are defined primarily by their conduct when it comes to substances, meaning that other elements of their identity are unimportant. Instead of using these words to describe patients or research participants, psychologists should employ person-first language. Terms like "person in recovery" or "person with a substance use disorder" are less stigmatizing and more truthful.
The terms "clean" and "filthy" are used interchangeably.
Clinicians have used the terms "clean" and "dirty" to describe both patients and drug screen test results for decades. Providers should avoid using such terminology, according to Howard Koh, MD, MPH, a professor at Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Drug screens should be labeled "positive" or "negative," and patients should be labeled "in recovery," "absent," or "resuming substance usage."
"Medication-assisted treatment" is a term that refers to a treatment that involves the use of
Even the term "medication-assisted treatment," which refers to rehabilitation including drugs like methadone and buprenorphine, is frequently misunderstood, according to Kelly, and can exacerbate stigmas surrounding opioid addiction. The usage of such language to characterize addiction treatment—but not thousands of other health disorders treated with medications—confirms the myth that persons who rely on such therapies have formed a "replacement addiction." A viable option is to call these chemicals "addiction therapy meds."